Pretoria - The South African Revenue Service (SARS) received a record four million tax returns for individuals and trusts during the 2009 tax season.
This is an increase of 800 000 or 26 percent from last year's filing season.
In a statement, the revenue service said that it viewed the breakthrough of the four million mark as a major step towards improved tax compliance, especially during difficult economic times.
"The public response to tax season 2009, and the phenomenal new record figures set, is a major, positive indicator of the growing levels of tax compliance in our country," said SARS.
Individual income tax returns, including outstanding returns from previous years, totalled over 3.9 million, while individual income tax returns submitted electronically on eFiling exceeded two million for the first time. A total 2.17 million people filed their returns via eFiling.
Further to this, individual returns captured electronically at a branch offices substantially exceeded the one million mark, at 1.43 million.
On the last day of the tax return season, 20 November, over 230 000 returns were submitted. A total of 200 000 were via eFiling.
"This number is more than ten times higher than the typical submission rate on eFiling during the tax season, said SARS, adding that the call centre attended to some 65 000 calls on the last day of the season.
It also recorded a number of improvements in the processing of returns. A least 97 percent of all individual income tax returns for the 2009 Tax Year were assessed within 24 hours compared with the 66 percent recorded in 2008
There was a continued growth in electronic submission via branch offices and eFiling, which when coupled with the new automated assessment process, resulted in further significant gains in the finalisation of assessments.
The average turnaround time improved from 15 days in 2008 to 1.7 days in 2009.
"The earlier tax season deadline this year, coupled with improved compliance from taxpayers resulted in more than double the number of returns processed this year to date, versus last year. This is approximately 3.9 million versus 1.7 million in 2008," said SARS.
New, tougher administrative penalties against non-compliant taxpayers were announced in October, which may have had a significant impact on the levels of compliance. However, the revenue service said there remained a "disappointingly" high number of returns outstanding for the 2009 and prior tax years.
Repeat offender taxpayers with multiple outstanding returns face a minimum penalty of R250 per return outstanding per month until the return is filed. SARS said penalty assessment notices would be issued to the first group of such taxpayers, comprising approximately 250 000 individuals, over the next few weeks.
However, those who submit their return before the penalty assessment is raised can still avoid the penalty. "Taxpayers with outstanding returns should immediately submit these returns at their nearest SARS branch or via eFiling."
Taxpayers can check whether they have any outstanding returns at any SARS branch or by calling the SARS Contact Centre at 0800 00 SARS (7277). For security purposes, one must have their ID number and tax reference number at hand when they call or visit.
Provisional taxpayers who are in good standing with SARS, such as not having any outstanding returns except for the current 2009 tax year and who file via eFiling, have until 28 February to submit their returns. However, they must make payment of any assessed tax within seven days of the assessment.
SARS thanked those taxpayers who submitted their returns on time and ahead of the deadline and well as the 15 000 officials who worked beyond normal working hours to assist, saying they had helped to create a capable, efficient public institution that can provide the highest levels of professional service to millions of taxpayers.
"SARS officials have demonstrated that public servants can be responsive, innovative and committed in the face of strenuous demands and deadline pressure from many thousands of taxpayers.
"The performance and capability of this organisation during Tax 2009 demonstrates that the levels of service efficiency, our automated systems and our accurate processing turn-around times are comparable to any private sector institution," said SARS.