I-T dept eases norms for personal hearing via video conference under faceless appeal scheme

The income tax department has brought in changes to the existing faceless appeal scheme, easing the process for taxpayers wanting a personal hearing through video conference while appealing against a tax demand by the department. The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) on December 28, notified the ‘Faceless Appeal Scheme, 2021’ and said that the Commissioner (Appeals) shall allow the request for personal hearing via video conference and communicate the date and time of hearing to the appellant through the National Faceless Appeal Centre.

“Such a hearing shall be conducted through video conferencing or video telephony, including use of any telecommunication application software which supports video conferencing or video telephony, to the extent technologically feasible…,” said the ‘Faceless Appeal Scheme, 2021’.

However, a person would not be permitted to appear before the income-tax authority either personally or through an authorised representative in connection with any proceedings under this scheme.

Under the previous ‘Faceless Appeal Scheme, 2020, a taxpayer‘s request for a personal hearing for making oral submissions, required the approval of the Chief Commissioner or the Director General of I-T, in charge of the Regional Faceless Appeal Centre.

Such approval was granted only if the Chief Commissioner or the Director General of I-T was of the opinion that personal hearing is required under the specified circumstances.

The faceless appeal scheme, which intended to remove the human interface between the taxpayer and the revenue department, was launched on September 25, 2020, and provided a fully faceless procedure for appeals to the Commissioner (Appeals).

It allowed taxpayers to file their documents in an electronic mode and thereby saving them from the hassle of physically visiting the Income Tax Office. Under the scheme, appeals were randomly allotted to any officer, whose identity would remain unknown to the appellant. The appellate decision was also team based.

However, cases relating to serious frauds, major tax evasion, sensitive and search matters, international tax, black money Act and benami property were not covered under the scheme.

The scheme ran into legal tangles as many taxpayers approached courts challenging denial of personal hearing facility, following which the ‘Faceless Appeal Scheme, 2021’ was notified on December 28.

“The Board shall establish suitable facilities for video conferencing or video telephony including telecommunication application software which supports video conferencing or video telephony at such locations as may be necessary, so as to ensure that the appellant, or his authorised representative, or any other person is not denied the benefit of this Scheme merely on the ground that such appellant or his authorised representative, or any other person does not have access to video conferencing or video telephony at his end,” the CBDT notification said.

It further said that notices or orders or any other electronic communication under this Scheme shall be delivered to the appellant, by placing an authenticated copy thereof in the appellant’s registered account; or sending an authenticated copy thereof to the registered email address of the appellant or his authorised representative; or uploading an authenticated copy on the mobile app of the appellant followed by a real-time alert.

Such mobile application software would be developed by the Income-tax Department for mobile devices which would be downloaded and installed on the registered mobile number of the appellant.

AMRG & Associates Director (Corporate & International Tax) Om Rajpurohit said the revised faceless assessment scheme 2021 is aimed at increasing more transparency and making the system more user-friendly.

“The new scheme has covered appeal matters w.r.t. assessment, penalty and rectification orders. Further, the scheme emphasized the importance of communication between the Appellant authorities, appellant and assessing officer.

“The scheme also provided real-time alert notification through text message and mobile app. Though, the scope of personal hearing has been enlarged but it must be done solely via video conferencing or video telephone; nonetheless, the reach of personal appearance has been kept out of scope once again,” Rajpurohit added.

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