ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has released a comprehensive list of 506,671 individuals who failed to file their tax returns for 2023. As a penalty, their mobile phone SIMs will be promptly blocked.

The decision was issued in an Income Tax General Order (ITGO) no 01 of 2024, which said that the mobile SIMs for these individuals will stay blocked until restored by the FBR or the Commissioner Inland Revenue having authority over the person.

According to the FBR, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and all telecom providers must immediately comply with this ITGO. The compliance report will be submitted to the FBR by May 15.

According to an official source, the FBR has identified 2.4 million potential taxpayers who did not exist on the tax rolls. Notices were subsequently issued to these individuals.

The FBR has selected over 0.5 million individuals out of the 2.4 million for SIM blockade based on one criterion: they must have declared taxable income in one of the past three years and these individuals did not file their returns for tax year 2023.

According to the Active Taxpayers List (ATL), the FBR received 4.2m taxpayers until March 1, 2024 as against 3.8m returns received over the corresponding period of last year. This shows a marginal increase during the period under review.

In tax year 2022, FBR received a total of 5.9m income tax returns.

According to the FBR official, SIMs will be automatically restored for persons who file tax returns for 2023. Every Monday, FBR updates its ATL listings. Every Tuesday, the names of persons who appear on the ATL list will be identified and submitted to the PTA and telecom companies for restoration. The officer emphasised that there would be no separate restoration procedures, and the entire process would be completed automatically.

The blockade of SIM cards is a new easy measure taken by the FBR to encourage low-income people to submit their tax returns to increase the number of return filers, which appears to be a good idea on paper. The FBR’s introduction of high withholding tax rates for non-filers follows a similar blueprint.

The FBR has focused its campaign on broadening the tax base for persons who did not appear on the tax roll. According to sources, persons who have filed their returns once can avoid paying high withholding tax rates in subsequent years. According to FBR sources, non-filers include one-time tax filers.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2024

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