Audit Your Employee Taxes, Before SARS Does

“One of our strategic objectives is to make it easy for taxpayers to comply with their tax obligations, and hard and costly for those who willfully do not comply” (Edward Kieswetter, SARS Commissioner)

Earlier this year, SARS and the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa) announced that they are joining up to deal with tax non-compliance, initially focussing on employers.

Employers under intensified scrutiny

While this enhanced collaboration covers a number of aspects, the immediate focus will be non-compliance by employers, who deduct employee taxes and levies, never turn those taxes over to SARS, and do not file their returns when required, as well as “other general corrupt activities”.

To enable the collaboration, the Criminal Investigations Division within SARS will allocate dedicated capacity and work closely with the NPA in its Specialised Tax Units (STUs). Solid cases ready for prosecution will be prepared in a coordinated manner across the country. The SARS regional leaders in criminal investigations and the NPA regional directors of the STUs will enrol these cases on a specific date for each region.

Why audit your employees’ tax?

The Tax Administration Act holds an employer liable for an amount of tax withheld and not paid to SARS, or which should have been withheld but was not withheld. The employer could also be held criminally liable for failure to withhold and pay PAYE.

SARS’ Criminal Investigations Division has already handed over 30 non-compliant employers to the NPA in their new joint venture and are working to identify and prioritise more cases.

They are further enabled by recent changes to the tax laws that effectively lowered the threshold for criminally prosecuting taxpayers through removing the requirement to prove that the taxpayer’s conduct was “wilful and without just cause” for selected offences. While previously a mistake made by a taxpayer was only a crime when it was done “wilfully and without just cause”, taxpayers can now in certain cases be convicted of an imprisonable criminal offence even if non-compliance was due to negligence or ignorance. Offenses include, among others, failure to submit a return when required to do so; failure to retain all relevant substantiating records; failure to provide any information requested by SARS; or failure to disclose any material information to SARS.

This, along with SARS’ and the NPA’s intensified focus on employers, as well as SARS’ increased abilities to draw taxpayer information from third parties, make an employee tax audit a necessity.

It also protects employees. Employees’ tax is not a separate form of tax, but rather an amount that the employer is obliged to withhold in respect of the employee’s liability for normal tax. On assessment annually, the employee’s tax withheld is set off against the employee’s liability for normal tax. The correct calculations and deductions will certainly help protect employees from unexpected surprises on assessment, and will also ensure that the employer’s processes are not the cause of disputes or delays when, for example, an employee needs to claim UIF.

How to audit your employees’ tax

  • An employee tax audit is a deliberate process undertaken to review payroll taxes and records, with the intention of ensuring accuracy to protect your employees as well as to comply with regulations. It is also an important part of a payroll audit.
  • Verify the employee information on your payroll: Do you have the required information for each employee in respect of identifying and calculating the applicable taxes, rebates and more? For example, the employment relationship affects the classification of an employee, which in turn determines the tax rate that must be applied.
  • Verify and review the remuneration for each employee: Remuneration, whether in cash or otherwise, includes any wage, salary, overtime, bonus, voluntary award, leave encashment, fee, stipend, commission, gratuity, pension, emolument, annuity, allowance, lump sum benefit payment, director’s remuneration, etc. Can the remuneration be structured more tax efficiently for the employee?
  • Verify that the correct taxes and levies are deducted:
    • Pay As You Earn (PAYE) must be withheld from the remuneration paid to employees, subject to thresholds and rebates.
    • Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) contributions, for which the monthly threshold recently (1 March) increased from a maximum of R14,872 pm (R178,464 pa) to R17,712 pm (R212,544 pa).
    • Skills Development Levy (SDL) is payable by employers with a payroll of more than R500,000 pa.
    • Employment Tax Incentive (ETI) rebates incentivise employers to employ young workers – if your company has taken advantage of the ETI rebate, these tax deductions should be verified in respect of each qualifying employee.
  • Verify that the correct amounts are deducted: Both over deductions and under deductions as well as any corrections to submitted returns will certainly flag your employee tax account at SARS for audit.
    • Make sure the correct tax rate is used to withhold the correct PAYE taxes from each employee’s wages, verifying that all tax thresholds, rebates, directives, tax credits, deductions, benefits, exemptions, contributions and allowances have been considered and correctly applied where appropriate.
    • UIF is calculated at a rate of 2% of remuneration (1% employee and 1% employer contribution).
    • SDL is calculated at a rate of 1% of total remuneration paid to employees, excluding certain payments such as reimbursements or severance benefits.
    • The ETI allows “eligible employers” of “qualifying employees”, subject to specific criteria, to claim a rebate with a maximum value of R1,000 per month for employees earning up to R4,500 per month, with the rebate tapering to zero at the maximum monthly remuneration of R6,500. The ETI was recently extended to February 2029 and should be considered with the assistance and advice of your accountant. Employers will be able to claim the incentive for a 24 qualifying month period for all employees who qualify.
  • Verify that the deducted amounts are correctly declared and remitted: The employees’ taxes and levies deducted from an employee’s remuneration must be declared on the Monthly Employer Declaration (EMP201) return and paid to SARS within seven days after the month end, or the previous working day if the seventh day is on a weekend or holiday. Late filing is subject to newly-introduced penalties, and late payments are subject to an immediate penalty of 10% and interest at the prescribed rate will be charged monthly on the outstanding amount.
  • Employment Taxes Validation – IRP5 Certificates: An employer must furnish employees from whom employees’ tax was deducted with an IRP5 certificate, within the prescribed tax period. From the 2020 year of assessment, SARS is performing tax calculations on the IRP5/IT3(a) certificates. Where the incorrect amount of tax was deducted from the employee, a letter will be issued to the employer.
  • Verify compliant employee record keeping: Employers must keep a number of specified records for each employee for a period of five (5) years and make them available for scrutiny by the Commissioner.
  • Schedule regular employees’ tax audits: Ideally, employers should conduct a payroll and employees’ tax audit on a routine basis and certainly any time there are changes in the tax regime, the labour laws, in the business or in its internal processes.
  • Professional processes: Much of a business’ employee tax risk can be mitigated by putting professional processes in place. Invest in SARS-compliant automated payroll software with training for the relevant staff members and regular legal updates; or outsource your payroll and its taxes to professionals such as your accountant or even a payroll specialist.