Shaun de Waal
Shaun de Waal

e-Filing is e-driving me e-mad

You can file your tax returns on the internet! What a good idea, I thought. (I think we should be able to vote on the net as well.) But we should have been given some vital information. We should have been told: you can file your tax returns on the internet if, and only if, you’ve got or can download Adobe Reader 8.1, which you can only do if, and only if, you have OS 10.4.7 (or later) on your Apple (if you’re on an Apple). They didn’t say that on the site when I registered and finally got the relevant number; they didn’t say that in the ads in the paper encouraging us to e-file.

And when I tried to register at the Sars site in October 2007, the site told me to wait — “We are currently experiencing heavy volumes,” et cetera. So I waited. OK, perhaps I shouldn’t have waited so long. But I thought January 20, 11 days till deadline, would be good enough. e-Filing is quick, isn’t it? No such luck.

I registered, and got a polite mail to say thanks for registering and please now go to the site and do your tax return. Okay. But I couldn’t get in — log-in wrong. Keep trying. Keep trying. Maybe the site’s experiencing a heavy flow, et cetera, et cetera. Finally, the deadline now looming, I called the help line. It took about a week to get through. In the meantime, I read in the Star some Sars official complaining about everyone filing at the last minute. Well, what did they expect? When was it ever otherwise?

For days on end, the help line was permanently engaged. You could try at 8am, you could try at 2pm, at 4pm — still engaged. I mailed the e-mail addresses supplied: [email protected], [email protected] No reply. No sign of life at all. What’s the point of putting them on the site, then? Eventually, the January 31 deadline having passed, and having resigned myself to “penalties”, I got through to the help line. Presumably the heavy flow had stopped by then.

“I can’t get in,” I told the person at the other end of the line. “What’s wrong?” I asked. After he’d sighed extravagantly, then apologised, saying he was absolutely exhausted, we tackled the issue and got an answer. Sars was supposed to send me a four-digit number to go at the end of the log-in name. They had never sent it, despite my email queries, but I was now given that number and could get into the site. Hallelujah!

And now for the bad news. You’ve got to have Adobe Reader 8.1 or you can’t do your return. Helpfully, the Sars site offers a free download of Adobe Reader 8.1. And it tells you, when you eventually get there, that you need OS 10.4.7. Thanks — now you tell me! And if I don’t have OS 10.4.7? Perhaps I could try Adobe Reader 7?

Another few days of trying to get through to the call centre. “Well,” said the person at the call centre when I finally got through, “why don’t you just try it and see?” This person seemed very optimistic and upbeat, which was nice. So I tried. Downloaded Adobe Reader 7. Did the return, and it all seemed to be going fine; then it wouldn’t upload the document to the Sars site. Back to the call centre. Days later: “Of course it doesn’t work,” I was told by a somewhat irritated voice. “It says so on the site.”

I noted that my sister (who is much more organised than I am) managed her tax returns fine on the net, on my computer, a while ago (like before January 31) — and that was before I had even tried to download any new Adobe Reader, relying on my old Reader 5. “Yes,” I was told. “It sometimes does that.”

So what to do? “Try to download it on to a machine that does have OS 10.4.7,” I was told. Right. Found a computer that does have OS 10.4.7. On first attempt, the relevant computer told me that it would take one day, 17 hours and 47 minutes to download. I tried again over the next few days, checking now and then, until it got the download time down to a more reasonable three hours. Finally it downloaded. “Not recognised,” said the computer. No reason given. It was a .dmg file. Computer hasn’t had a problem with that before …

So back to the call centre, I suppose. Except I just don’t have the energy today. I’ve wasted hours, days, weeks on this already. Perhaps I should just fill the form in by hand and send it in the post, and take whatever penalties Sars chooses to impose on me. It would have been so much quicker and less painful to do that by hand in the first place — in October. I’ll just have to take my punishment for late returns. You can’t say I didn’t try.