The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa is shown on November 4, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

CRA program to help poor file taxes yields noticeable bump in people helped

Extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics to operate year-round

OTTAWA — A federal program designed to help low-income Canadians file their taxes has boosted the number of returns it’s handled in the year since the government increased its funding.

The extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics run by more than 3,000 groups to operate year-round.

Now, the agency is looking to improve the program to help more low-income Canadians qualify for supports administered through the tax system, including the Canada Child Benefit that goes up in value this weekend.

Figures provided by the Canada Revenue Agency show a six-per-cent increase in the number of tax returns filed through the program this year compared to last year.

In raw numbers, the CRA says more than 835,000 returns were filed by people who are homeless, Indigenous, newcomers, seniors or disabled.

The boost is double those seen in previous years, before the Liberals increased annual spending on the “community volunteer income-tax program” to $13 million in the 2018 budget.

“There’s not another program” like it in the CRA, says program co-ordinator Julie Gagnon. “It’s a different program and we get to see the direct impact that we have on lifting people out of poverty.”

In 2018, the CRA says it paid out $1.7 billion in refunds and benefits — an increase from the $1.5 billion in 2017 — to 703,400 people who filed 786,600 returns through the program. (Some people filed returns for more than one year.)

The dollar value for this year isn’t available yet, but it’s not a given that the figure will go up.

“We would hope or expect that some of them may not return in the following year,” Gagnon says. “The reasons could be varied by why they wouldn’t return. The next year, hopefully they’re in a better financial situation and they might be able to go pay somebody to do it where they weren’t able to do it themselves.”

READ MORE: Police warning of CRA scam at tax time

Long-term plans aim to help more than one million people through the program by 2023 — an increase of more than 40 per cent from the 741,400 people helped this year.

To get there, the CRA expanded on a unique research project it ran in 2017. Agency researchers conducted in-depth interviews with people at volunteer tax clinics or in shelters to identify behaviour patterns that could help the government improve programs for and outreach to low-income and marginalized populations.

The result was the increase in annual spending to $13 million, the second time the Liberals had expanded the program since 2015, allowing the 48-year-old program to operate year-round.

Gagnon says the CRA used the extra funding to increase staffing across the country to provide more face-to-face training for organizations and volunteers.

She says the agency was also able to provide tax-filing software earlier for groups to use and set up a dedicated line for volunteers to call with questions so they wouldn’t have to wait in a general queue.

This year, 3,500 organizations took part in the program, along with 19,500 volunteers — both increases from 2018.

Federal workers have also used the extra money to reach out to Indigenous communities, many of which are in remote locations, to get more people receiving benefits to which they’re entitled. Between April 2018 and March 2019, workers at the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada visited 669 Indigenous communities, and plan to visit and return to as many this year.

Gagnon says the agency plans to rely on the results of a survey late last year of all organizations and volunteers to shape the future of the program. The results are expected to be made public in the coming weeks.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

Just Posted

Langley’s own Dallas Smith rolls through B.C. on the CP Holiday Train Dec. 11 to 17

Lower Mainland stops include Agassiz, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Moody, and Port Coquitlam

VIDEO: Magic of Christmas draws more participants, bigger turnout

Annual event was projected to attract more than 5,000

VIDEO: A special breakfast with Santa for special kids sells out in Langley

For the first time, there was a waiting list for the ‘inclusive’ event

VIDEO: First major gymnastics meet of the season continues at Langley Events Centre

Event hosted by Langley Gymnastics Foundation (LGF) draws 300 athletes from around B.C.

Langley Then and Now: Family farm now a luxury auto dealership

See what happened this time of year around Langley in decades past.

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

Four men in hospital after early morning Vancouver stabbing

A large group of men was seen fighting in Yaletwon

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Brain injury from domestic abuse a ‘public health crisis,’ says B.C. researcher

Nearly 80% of the domestic violence victims who reported to police last year were woman

Campbell River mom’s iPhone containing priceless photos stolen from Victoria hospital parkade

The phone contained photos, heartbeat recordings of her late son

Miller nets winner as Canucks edge Sabres 6-5 in OT

Roussel, Leivo tally two apiece for Vancouver

‘Norovirus-like’ outbreak interrupts Bantam hockey showcase in Greater Victoria

Several athletes were sent home, quarantined on the ferry

Strong turnout of volunteers to search for missing senior

Ted Vanderveen disappeared in rural Maple Ridge on Nov. 28

Most Read