Dire provisional tax penalties on underestimation of income

Provisional taxpayers are generally those taxpayers who earn income from sources other than a salary. In other words, PAYE is not deducted from these other sources of income on a monthly basis and paid over to SARS. As is the case with PAYE, provisional tax presents a cash flow mechanism to National Treasury through which to gather prepayments of an ultimate tax liability throughout a tax year on income which is not subject to the PAYE regime and which would otherwise only have been paid some time later when an annual income tax return is ultimately submitted. This can be as much as a year later.

To this end, provisional taxpayers are required to submit an estimate of their annual taxable income on a six-monthly basis. In the case of natural persons, provisional tax estimates are required to be submitted to SARS by way of a provisional tax return at the end of August each year, and again by the end of February. Legal persons similarly are required to submit estimates of taxable income at the end of the first 6 months of their financial years and again on the final day of the financial year.

For the first sixth-month estimate to be submitted an estimate is required to be made by the taxpayer of the estimated amount of taxable income that will be earned for the full year of assessment: half the amount of tax due on that estimated amount is required to be paid over to SARS at that date already, albeit after taking into account any amounts of PAYE also already deducted, where salary income is also earned. For the second provisional tax return, an estimate should again be submitted, and the tax on such estimate again be paid over (after taking into account any amounts of PAYE already deducted during the year as well as the first provisional tax payment already made).

The potential for manipulation by taxpayers is obvious and a legislated remedy is required to ensure that provisional taxpayers do not simply always submit an estimate of Rnil, thereby delaying the payment of amounts to SARS until the tax return for the applicable year itself is ultimately submitted. To this end, the Fourth Schedule to the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962, makes provision for penalties to be levied where it appears at ultimate assessment date that a taxpayer has underestimated its taxable income for provisional tax purposes. For taxpayers earning more than R1 million in taxable income, taxpayers are allowed some leeway in that an estimate should at least have been 80% of the actual taxable income ultimately determined. This recognises that taxpayers are unlikely at year end to be able to accurately estimate their actual taxable income for the year already. However, if the estimated taxable income proves to be less than 80% of the actual taxable income, a 20% penalty is levied on the difference between the tax payable on 80% of the actual taxable income and the tax payable on the estimated amount returned by the taxpayer.

Similarly, taxpayers earning less than R1 million taxable income are subject to the same 20% penalty, but within a 90% margin of accuracy instead of 80%. These taxpayers are afforded additional relief though in that they are permitted to submit as an estimate a factor of their last assessed taxable income without running the risk of incurring a penalty, even if this amount ultimately is less than 90% of the actual taxable income determined.

Interestingly, no underestimation penalty exists for first provisional tax estimates, however SARS may query estimates submitted and require taxpayers to submit revised first provisional tax estimates. Where second provisional tax estimates are concerned though, taxpayers should take care in preparing estimated taxable incomes which are to be submitted for provisional tax purposes as failure to do so could lead to a significantly increased tax charge when the tax year is ultimately assessed by SARS.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.  Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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