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Trouble with the tax authorities
May, 07th 2010

Have you been struggling to getyour refund from the taxman? Or been harassed time and again for an income-tax scrutiny year after year? Is there a permanent account number you have been waiting for years? If yes, theres a way to get your grievances resolved.

The government has appointed former I-T officials or officials from the Indian Revenue Service as income-tax ombudsmen. These officers are independent of the jurisdiction of the income-tax department and hence, operate as an independent arbiter.

Where is the ombudsmans office?
The government has set up offices for 12 ombudsmen. They are stationed in Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Chandigarh, Bhopal and Kochi. More centres may be set up in future. In Mumbai, the office is situated at Mittal Tower in Nariman Point.

What cases can the ombudsman review?
The ombudsman can help you resolve issues linked to delay of tax refunds, such as if your refund came without a cheque or refund voucher, delay in updation of tax demand registers due to which tax-assessee was harassed etc.

If your tax return has come up for scrutiny and you find that there was lack of transparency in selecting it, you can complain about that too.

Other cases the ombudsman can review include delay in issuing you a permanent account number (PAN), or in disposing off an interest-waiver case and in rectifying applications. He can also review failure to credit tax deducted at source.

If the income-tax officer has been rude to you or has not been working during office hours, that too can be brought to the ombudsmans notice.

However, if the issue you are bringing to notice is being looked at as an appeal, revision, reference or writ by any income-tax authority or appellate authority or tribunal or court, the ombudsman cannot help you.

How are complaints resolved?
The ombudsman mediates between the income-tax department and the tax-payer or tax assessee and seeks to settle the issue and pass a decision also called award, based on the income-tax rules and guidelines.

Can you complain directly to the ombudsman?
The ombudsmans doors are open to anyone facing a problem related to income tax, but there is a process before he can be approached.

On facing a problem, you must file a written complaint with the officer senior to the officer you want to complain against. Only if the authority senior to the person whom you are complaining against rejects your complain or doesnt reply within 30 days of writing can you write to the ombudsman.

However, note that the ombudsman is to be made known of the issue within one year after the 30 day wait for a response from the senior I-T official.

We will need an acknowledgment to prove that you had written to the officer, an official at the ombudsmans office in Mumbai told DNA Money.

How to file a complaint?
There is no set format for writing a letter to the ombudsman. But your complaint must be in writing and should mention the following:

Your name and address
Income-tax authority against who you are complaining
The documents that you had submitted to the income-tax authorities
The issue you are seeking redressed

Also mention in your letter details such as the date on which you first complained to the income-tax authorities, the higher authority that you approached after the first level failed to respond and the time gap since when you have been following on your complaint.

This letter, signed, can be either faxed or mailed to the ombudsman. In some centres, an electronic complaint can also be filed. However, when you are sending an electronic complaint, you have to sign the same in the ombudsmans office at the earliest opportunity.

What documents must you submit?
The letter is to be submitted along with relevant income proof or documents supporting your claim and complaint. The complaint letters written to the income-tax authority must also be furnished. Three sets of the documents are required, said an official at the ombudsmans office.

Where to send your complaint letter?
Most ombudsmen operate out of the income-tax offices or Aaykar Bhawans in the respective cities. The address of the ombudsmans office and the contact details are listed on the website: www.incometaxindiapr.

The Mumbai office is situated at:
115, Mittal Tower,
B-Wing, Nariman Point,
Mumbai - 400021
Tel: 22829930, 22829936

What sort of decisions can the ombudsman arrive at?
If no resolution is reached in a months time after receiving the complaint, the ombudsman can pass a decision called award. This decision has to be in line with the documents presented to him and the prevailing tax laws. The ombudsman can ask the concerned I-T officials to hasten the process if they have delayed payments, and even apologise to the taxpayer. If the ombudsman finds it fit to award a monetary compensation, he can. However, this amount is a token amount it cannot be higher than Rs 1,000.

How soon are complaints resolved?
The income-tax authority is given a months time from the day of the ombudsmans decision to implement the same.

Do I have to accept the decision of the ombudsman?
The decision pronounced by the ombudsman is to be obeyed by the I-T department. But for that to happen, you as the complainant have to accept the decision. You have to let the ombudsman know your acceptance of the full and final settlement within 15 days of receiving the letter stating the ombudsmans decision, or the time frame mentioned in the letter.

If you fail to do so, the award shall lapse and be of no effect, say the guidelines.

What happens to the complaints?
After you complain to the ombudsman, not only will it benefit you, but also benefit others. The ombudsman is asked to make a note of the problem areas for taxpayers, which is then sent to the central board of direct taxes (CBDT) and the Union finance ministry. He also sends a report once a year to the government of India and the CBDT to inform them of officials who have not been acting the right way. Thus, approaching the ombudsman can help the government and authorities better our tax process.

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