SARS branches will stay closed – as frustrations grow around Adobe Flash and online filing

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has announced that it will keep its physical branches closed due to the second Covid-19 wave currently impacting the country.

The revenue collector had earlier communicated that its branches would re-open on 18 January 2021. However, SARS management has decided to extend the suspension of physical visits to SARS branches until further notice, while continuing with the utilisation of virtual branches to service taxpayers

“All offices will continue to operate and serve the public remotely via our digital channels until further notice. Branches will also engage with taxpayers via the use of virtual meetings using Microsoft Teams,” it said.

SARS said all members of the public should take note of the following:

  • All new bookings via the SARS website will be honoured via a virtual engagement – Microsoft Teams or telephonic engagement;
  • The SARS Contact Centre will continue to service any queries from members of the public;
  • All South African Ports of Entry manned by SARS customs officials will continue to operate during this lockdown period. Please note that strict social distancing measures will apply, and all members of the public are required to properly wear masks at all times when entering any SARS Customs building, or engaging with any customs officials. No access will be allowed without the wearing of a mask;
  • All provisional taxpayers will be expected to file their returns before the deadline on 29 January 2021 by utilising the above electronic channels, or visiting the virtual branch for assistance.

“In light of the evolving Covid-19 pandemic situation, SARS is convinced that transacting through virtual branches will be the only way in which it will continue to deliver its public services to taxpayers for the foreseeable future. SARS will also continue to assist taxpayers through its contact centre.

“SARS management believes that the above arrangement will continue to enable taxpayers to transact with SARS without difficulty while ensuring the observance of the Covid-19 protocols, as well as protecting taxpayers and employees.”

Adobe Flash

The decision to keep branches closed will frustrate some taxpayers who have run into trouble with SARS’ online filing services.

A number of readers have complained to BusinessTech that these issues are being caused by the outdated Adobe Flash Player which was officially deprecated on 31 December 2020.

​SARS says it is aware of the issue and that certain forms not loading correctly due to the end of Adobe Flash.

“We are currently working on resolving the matter and will advise once the problem has been resolved. We sincerely apologise for the current inconvenience,” it said.

In December, SARS warned taxpayers that it may take time to move all of its services away from Adobe Flash. The revenue collector said that the problem it faces is two-fold.

“Adobe will in fact stop support for its Flash technology, which means there will be no upgrades or solutions provided for issues that arise post December 2020.

“Secondly, certain technology companies that provide browser capabilities have decided not to support Adobe Flash on their platforms post December 2020, which means any functionality using Adobe Flash will not work if the browser is upgraded to the latest version.”

SARS said that it anticipated this scenario and is in a process of mitigating the risks and ensuring an easy and seamless service for taxpayers, tax practitioners and traders who interact with the revenue service.

“Therefore, SARS has been busy replacing forms using Adobe Flash with the latest HTML5 technology.”

The revenue collector said it has given priority to moving all the forms used for the major taxes, including income tax for individuals, companies, trusts, IRP6 provisional tax returns as well as the form used for payroll taxes to the HTML5 platform.

SARS said that provisional taxpayers who are required to file their annual income tax returns by 29 January 2021 can use eFiling and the SARS MobiApp.

While SARS’ phasing in of HTML5 has focused on the major tax types with high-volume online submissions, there are some forms which include the registration and objection forms, as well as other smaller taxes with lower volumes, that will remain on Adobe Flash post-December 2020, it said.

“This could cause problems in these low-volume areas should Microsoft also discontinue support for Adobe Flash sooner than we think.

“It is for this reason that SARS have requested people to use two browsers (Edge and Chrome) in the interim when interacting with SARS in these low-volume areas, while SARS transitions fully to HTML5,” it said.

SARS said it is committed to migrating all remaining forms to HTML5 in 2021.

Read: South Africa made a major tax change at the start of January – here’s what you should know

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SARS branches will stay closed – as frustrations grow around Adobe Flash and online filing