Assessing Officer of Income Tax Department: Powers and Importance
Taxpayers are assigned an Assessing Officer by the Income Tax Department based on the address mentioned in their PAN and income profile. The Assessing Officer or AO assigned to taxpayers is called jurisdictional AO. These officers play a pivotal role in analysing income tax returns and checking anomalies in tax returns.
This article will give you important information regarding who is an Assessing Officer, what are their powers and how one can reach an Assessing Officer in times of need.
Who Is An Assessing Officer?
All returns filed by taxpayers to the Centralised Processing Centre of the Tax Department go through several checks for processing and validation. The assessment process also comprises looking for any intentional or unintentional errors that a taxpayer has made.
An Assessing Officer means an officer of the Income Tax Department that carries out this assessment process. An AO also acts as a bridge for communication between the Tax department and taxpaying entities. These officers may ask for additional documents from taxpayers if they come across any anomaly during scrutiny of ITRs.
Section 148 of the Income Tax Act also gives Assessing Officers the authority to reassess the income tax return and take appropriate actions in case of any violation. An Assessing Officer can be anyone from the following ranks:
- Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax
- Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax
- Joint Commissioner of Income Tax
- Additional Commissioner of Income Tax
The Central Board of Direct Taxes appoints these jurisdictional Assessing Officers according to taxpayers’ income profiles and place of residence.
Powers of Assessing Officer under section 131 of Income Tax Act
Section 131 of the Income Tax Act provides a wide range of powers to an AO. They are similar to powers given to a court with regard to the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. The powers are as follows:
- Inspection of books of accounts.
- Requesting attendance of anyone like a bank officer and examining him/her under oath.
- Ordering production of books of accounts or documents.
Powers of Assessing Officer Under Section 132 of Income Tax Act
Section 132 of the Income Tax Act provides search and seizure powers to the Assessing Officer in the following scenarios:
- When the tax authorities have sufficient reason to believe that a person who has received summons to produce their books of accounts or any documents has not produced or forgot to bring the documents to the Department's attention.
- When tax authorities believe that a person who has received a notice or warrant to produce financial statements for carrying out further scrutiny will miss out or not bring these documents to the Department.
- Any person having cash, gold, silver, or any precious material which has partly or wholly not been incorporated in ITR and comes under disclosed income.
Given the above situation, an Assessing Officer has the following powers:
- Search any place like building, house, office, aircraft, etc. where they believe that the books of accounts, relevant documents, bullion, jewellery and cash may be hidden.
- They can break open the lock of any building, room, cupboard and locker where keys are not available.
- Search any person who has entered or left the premises if the authorities believe that such person can hide some important documents, money and jewellery with him/her.
- The tax authorities can confiscate any books of accounts, jewellery, cash, etc. that they have found during such search. However, if these articles are a part of the stock-in-trade of the firm, then they cannot seize such articles.
- The Assessing Officers can make notes or take extracts or copies of any important document. They can also record all articles that have come to their notice.
Importance of Having an Assessing Officer
The Assessing Officer of Income Tax Department has the following importance:
- It is the responsibility of the AO to update taxpayers about any changes occurring in tax laws or the deadline for ITRs.
- The Assessing Officer checks whether the ITR filed is in accordance with the rules and regulations mentioned in the IT Act.
- Taxpayers can write to jurisdictional Assessing Officers regarding information about their refunds or demand.
When to Reach the Income Tax Assessing Officer or AO?
After you have filed your income tax return, the Income Tax Department will start assessing your return. They will either accept the filed return or demand additional taxes by issuing a notice, or they may ask for some clarifications. If you accept the tax demand and pay the tax, in that case, the matter ends there.
However, you will have to contact your jurisdictional Assessing Officer if you wish to contest the demand notice or clarifications sought. You can contact them through their official e-mail id. The Assessing Officer of the Income Tax Department will reply to issues raised by you within a timeline of 30 days.
In case you are not satisfied with the AO's reply, you can contact the higher authorities like the Chief Commissioner of Income Tax or Principal Commissioner of Income Tax.
What Is the Procedure to Find Jurisdictional AO or AO Code?
You can find your jurisdictional AO by following these steps:
Step 1: Visit the official portal of the Income Tax Department.
Step 2: Go to the section "Know Your Assessing Officer". Provide information like PAN, Aadhar, date of birth, etc. and select ‘Continue’.
Step 3: A six digit OTP will be sent to the taxpayer’s registered mobile number.
Step 4: On successful validation of the OTP, details about jurisdictional AO will be displayed on the screen.
Next, we will see the steps to find AO code online:
Step 1: Visit the official portal of the Income Tax Department.
Step 2: Visit the “My profile” section.
Step 3: Click on PAN details.
Step 4: The AO code will be displayed along with your PAN details.
Process to Change Your Jurisdictional Assessing Officer
Taxpayers also have the option of changing their Assessing Officers when they have changed their address or when they are not satisfied with the present Assessing Officer’s behaviour.
To change your AO in case of an address change, you can follow these steps:
Step 1: Write an application to the current AO describing your reason.
Step 2: Write another application to the new AO requesting him/her to ask the existing AO to accept your request and grant approval for a change of AO.
Step 3: The existing AO must approve your application.
Step 4: Once the application is approved, you must forward this to the Income Tax Commissioner.
Step 5: Once the IT Commissioner approves your application as well, then your AO will be changed.
Additionally, in case you are not satisfied with the behaviour of your current AO, you can change him/her by following these steps:
Step 1: Write an application to the IT Ombudsman explaining your case to him/her.
Step 2: Provide all the details about your current AO and reasons why you are not satisfied with their work.
Step 3: If your request is approved by the ombudsman, forward the application to the Income Tax Commissioner.
Step 4: After approval from the IT Commissioner, your AO will be changed.