Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dark UX patterns from SARS

I have some idiosyncratic reasons for preferring the manual income tax return submission process over eFiling [1], and now I'm noticing some dark patterns. It isn't necessary for anyone to deliberately install such patterns in order for them to exist. Entropic forces are sufficient.

Already on the first page of my return I notice an error: apparently I'm married! If I didn't tell them I was married (I don't recall ever having done so), then who did? The SARS eFiling manual submission process sabotage robot? But not to worry, this is simple to fix: a cross in the correct box, in black ink.

The guide that arrived with the return warns, "If you have made a mistake in completing a field, do not correct it by completing the correct information outside the field, or making notes in the margin, as all this information will not be considered as valid and won't be taken into account in the calculation of the assessment, Refer to the section 1 above - Introduction, to obtain a new return" - and guess what? The clock keeps ticking! Back before SARS "simplified" the tax submission process, returns were not personalized (I didn't ask for you to do that SARS, I'm not bewildered by sections that don't apply to me) and they were all in the same format. This made the protocol for getting a new return simpler: one could get one at any SARS branch. Now, instead, we have at least one unnecessary turnaround (waiting for SARS to mail the personalized forms) to retard the process.

And hey, guess what? On page 2 already it's clear that SARS sent me an incorrectly personalized return! "You have stated that you do not have a local savings or cheue account at any bank in South Africa. If this statement is incorrect you may be liable for an administrative penalty of up to R16000." The whole page reads a bit like "Mark here with an 'X' if you have stopped beating your wife".

Page 3 brings another incomplete section. After all the raving about the wonders of personalized returns, there's no evidence of the IRP5 certificates my now former employer would have submitted. This is really a pain in the behind, as I can't read the IRP5 certificates that sit in my archives. I guess I'll have to reverse-engineer my gross  salary for the part of the 2012 tax year that I was en employee.

Or maybe just take a day out of my life and spend it at the local SARS office and have one of their agents do the eFiling for me. I'm sure I can find a book to keep me company.

[1] Until I checked now, I was under the impression that SARS eFiling was really operated by a private company, and not by SARS itself. I now doubt this, as the whois information indicates SARS as the domain registrant. Still, who operates the web server - SARS or Internet Solutions? whois suggests it may be the latter; the IP address for the server is in an address block allocated to IS.

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