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Tax Blues: Seek I-T ombudsman's help
January, 27th 2007

To facilitate the I-T refund seeking mechanism and also to help taxpayers, the government has notified the Income Tax Ombudsman Scheme. As per the Oxford dictionary ombudsman means an official appointed to investigate individuals complaints against administrations especially that of public authorities.

Senior officer to be appointed
An officer of the Indian Revenue Service (I-T) or other senior government officer can be appointed as the ombudsman. It has also been clarified that the ombudsman will be independent of the jurisdiction of the I-T department.

Initially, the offices of ombudsman will be located in a few cities. The government may subsequently notify other locations where the ombudsman will be located.

The ombudsman will have the power to receive complaints from the taxpayers on specified matters. He will review such complaints and mediate between the I-T department and taxpayer and pass such orders as he deems fit.

Procedure for redressal
A taxpayer may file complaints on the following matters with the ombudsman - non-receipt of refunds/delay in issue of refunds; non-acknowledgement of letters or documents by the I-T department; lack of transparency in selecting cases for scrutiny; delay in disposal of rectification applications; delay in allotment of PAN; non credit of tax paid, etc.

Procedure for filing complaints
The complaint can be filed either by the taxpayer himself or through his authorised representative. Further, the complaint can also be made through electronic means and a print-out of the same filed subsequently.
Caution point
Before any complaint is filed with the ombudsman, the taxpayer should ensure that he had earlier approached the senior officer of the concerned officer against whom the complaint is filed; and either the senior officer has rejected the complaint or not responded to the compliant within one month. The taxpayer can also file the complaint if he is not satisfied with the reply. The complaint has to be made within one year of receipt of the senior officers reply and where no reply is received, then within one year and one month of the representation being made to the senior officer. The complaint cannot be made to the ombudsman on an issue which is pending before any appellate authority or tribunal or courts or, if the issue is a subject matter of revision or reference before the I-T authorities.

It is important to note that the ombudsman shall not be bound by any legal rules of evidence and may follow such procedures as he considers fair and proper. After the receipt of the complaint, the ombudsman shall send a copy of the complaint to the concerned I-T authority and endeavour to settle the case by mutual consent. If the complaint is not settled by mutual agreement within one month or such further period as the ombudsman decides, he may pass the order. The ombudsman may also award a token compensation up to Rs 1,000 for the loss suffered by the taxpayer.
The award shall be binding on the I-T department and taxpayer, unless the taxpayer does not accept the award or does not file a letter of full and final settlement of his complaint within 15 days of receipt of the order or such extended time up to 15 days.

To sum up
Approaching the ombudsman for tax refunds/other tax matters may be a cost effective approach for the taxpayers to resolve pending issues. Of course, the taxpayer should take adequate steps to ensure that the issue is covered within the ambit of the ombudsman and that he has earlier approached the senior officers for resolution of the issue.

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