South Africa: Proposed Unilateral Extension Of Prescription By SARS

Last Updated: 21 August 2015
Article by Nicolette Smit

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2016

Section 99 of the Tax Administration Act, 28 of 2011 ("Tax Admin Act") regulates prescription in relation to tax assessments and provides for a three year prescription period in respect of income tax assessments and a five year prescription period in the case of self-assessment taxes (e.g. value-added tax and employees' tax).

Generally, the prescription period that prohibits SARS from issuing an additional assessment does not apply if the reason why the full amount of tax was not charged was due to fraud, misrepresentation or non-disclosure of material facts by the taxpayer. When the tax is a self-assessment tax, the basis on which the prescription period does not apply differs in that it refers to fraud, as well as intentional and negligent misrepresentation or non-disclosure.

In terms of the draft Tax Administration Laws Amendment Bill, 2015 ("draft Bill"), released for public comment on 22 July 2015, it has been proposed that the Commissioner for the South African Revenue Service ("the Commissioner") may extend the relevant  prescription period prior to the expiry thereof, inter alia, if an audit or investigation relates to a complex matter such as the application of the general anti-avoidance provisions ("GAAR") under a tax Act, an audit or investigation under section 31 of the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962 (which deals with transfer pricing), or a matter of analogous complexity. It is proposed that, in these circumstances, the relevant prescription period may be extended by the Commissioner by a period of up to three years.  The proposed amendment appears to have the effect of allowing the Commissioner to unilaterally extend the prescription period provided for in section 99(1) of the Tax Administration Act, in the case of income tax, to a maximum of six years.

A number of issues arise from this proposed amendment.  Firstly, the terms "complex matter" and "analogous complexity" are wide, and no objective standard is given by which SARS must measure the alleged complexity of  a matter. The citing of examples of complex matters as being GAAR and the transfer pricing rules is in our view not helpful, and does not set an objective standard against which the complexity of a matter may be measured. The decision as to the complexity of a matter and whether an extension of the legislative prescription periods is thus warranted, and therefore appears to be a largely subjective matter which is left to the discretion of the Commissioner. This will lead to uncertainty for taxpayers in relation to whether a decision by SARS to extend the prescription period in relation to a particular tax aspect in this context is justified or appropriate. 

Secondly, the proposed amendment does not stipulate that SARS has to notify the taxpayer that prescription has been extended. Section 3 of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act 3 of 2000 ("PAJA") provides that administrative action which materially and adversely affects the rights or legitimate expectations of any person must be procedurally fair. In terms of section 3(2) of PAJA, in order to give effect to this right, an administrator (i.e. SARS) must give adequate notice of proposed administrative action. It is trite law that any decision taken by the Commissioner constitutes administrative action and therefore has to comply with the provisions of PAJA.  It is therefore submitted that, in order to create certainty for taxpayers and to bring the proposed amendment in compliance with section 3 of PAJA, a requirement should be added that the Commissioner notifies the taxpayer of its intention to extend prescription.

Thirdly, there is no procedure for a taxpayer to challenge a decision by the Commissioner to extend prescription on the basis that it regards a matter as being complex, as a taxpayer is not given the ability to object to such a determination by SARS in terms of section 104 of the Tax Administration Act. Therefore, since such a decision by the Commissioner would constitute an administrative action, a taxpayer's only remedy would be to request reasons in terms of PAJA, and, following the receipt of reasons and if considered necessary, to take such a decision on review under PAJA. This is a costly and time-consuming process, and does not seem to be an appropriate manner in which to deal with this issue. Presumably, the taxpayer would have to wait for SARS to issue an additional assessment after availing itself of the additional time, and then raise this aspect as a ground of objection against the raising of the assessment.

Lastly, the proposed effective date of this amendment is the date of promulgation of the draft Bill. The question arises how this will affect a taxpayer's existing rights in relation to prescription and in particular where an assessment was issued prior to the date that the proposed amendment comes into effect. The untenable situation could arise where a taxpayer's 3 year (or 5 year) prescription period is close to expiry, the draft Bill is promulgated and the Commissioner, prior to expiry of such period, unilaterally decides to extend the prescription period based on a subjective determination of the complexity of a particular tax aspect. It  is therefore submitted that the proposed amendment should only apply to years of assessment commencing on or after the date of promulgation of the proposed amendment.  

Due to the importance of prescription for taxpayers in obtaining finality as to their tax affairs, it is crucial for taxpayers to be aware of the prescription status of assessments and their rights in this context. ENSafrica is submitting comments to National Treasury in respect of, inter alia, this proposed amendment, as it has far reaching implications on the rights of taxpayers and will result in great uncertainty for taxpayers in relation to prescription of assessments, will severely impact on a taxpayer's ability to reach finality in relation to their tax affairs and will widen the already considerable powers of SARS in the context of tax disputes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.