A notice from the taxman calling for an appearance at the tax office could make many a heart skip a beat. Taxpayers take the help of experts for addressing the queries raised, assistance in drafting appropriate submissions and appearing before the tax authorities to provide the relevant explanations.
This relieves the taxpayer from personal appearance though there would still be a lot of paperwork involved. The digital or ‘Go paperless’ initiative of the income-tax department in the form of e-assessment aims at reducing the personal interface as well as the physical transmission of data by sharing the information electronically.
When it was first introduced in seven metro cities—Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai, the assessing officer would send out a notice to the designated mail address of the taxpayer calling for information.
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Taxpayers had the option to either provide the requested information electronically or opt out of the e-assessment mode by giving a written communication to the officer. Further, this could be done either at the start of the assessment proceedings or at any time in the course of the same. Taking a step further and in line with the central government’s digitisation drive, the tax department has now integrated the process within the e-filing portal.
How does it work?
Taxpayers will receive an e-mail and mobile alert about the tax notice to the registered e-mail address and phone number. As this facility is linked to the internal business application of tax office, all e-mails to taxpayers will bear the official e-mail address of the tax officer. On its receipt, taxpayers can log in to the e-filing portal using their unique login credentials, click the ‘e-proceeding’ tab and access the notice/questionnaire.
Respond over mail
The taxpayer can respond over mail providing the information called for. While doing so, he/she would have to take care of the specifications detailed in the notification dated February 3, 2016 issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes. Some of these include: sharing the documents in pdf format; splitting the number into more than one mail and ensuring that the size of the attachments in a single mail does not exceed 10MB; indicating the relevant point in the notice/questionnaire against the response; serially numbering the documents and provide the total number of pages.
The tax department has also provided an additional mail address—firstname.lastname@example.org—that would be copied in all correspondences between the taxpayer and the officer to ensure that there is an audit trail of the communications and responses.
The taxpayer also has the option to provide his/her response (including supporting documentation) online in the e-filing website. This would enable the taxpayer to check the entire trail right from the notice, response and the final order in the e-filing website.
In case the taxpayer chooses to respond through the e-proceeding tab, he needs to provide the response quickly as the portal would auto close the facility 7 days prior to the time barring date. However, the assessing officer could re-open the tab based on a specific request from the taxpayer and provide additional time for submission of information.
E-assessment allows the taxpayers the luxury of responding to the notices from anywhere in the globe and also reduces the compliance cost. However, this could be challenging for taxpayers having complex transactions or having difficulty in explaining their viewpoints through e-mails. Nevertheless, transparency in the system coupled with reduction in time, cost and efforts of all concerned is a step in the right direction. Though there could be hassles in the early stages, a well-coordinated system with the support of all stakeholders should be able to overcome these.
The writer is partner Deloitte Haskins and Sells LLP. Inputs from Radhika Viswanathan, director and Vinit Turakhia, deputy manager, Deloitte Haskins and Sells LLP