The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) headquarters Connaught Building is pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) headquarters Connaught Building is pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Taxpayers’ watchdog sees complaints spike, raising worries about pandemic tax season

Just a few weeks ago, the CRA sent out letters to 441,000 people questioning their eligibility for the CERB

Canada’s taxpayers’ ombudsperson says his office has seen a steep spike in complaints compared to one year ago, delivering an early warning about how complicated returns should be handled this year.

François Boileau says the number of complaints from taxpayers about the Canada Revenue Agency was up 93 per cent in December from the same month in 2019.

Urgent requests, for people in dire financial straits, are up 120 per cent since the start of the pandemic, he says.

Boileau says the statistics paint a portrait of the difficult circumstances some Canadians find themselves in as a result of COVID-19, and the need for the agency to improve services for the coming tax season.

He says too many Canadians still spend hours trying to get through to a call centre agent.

Boileau adds that delays are especially frustrating for people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit last year and are now trying to sort out whether they have to repay some of the aid.

Just a few weeks ago, the CRA sent out letters to 441,000 people questioning their eligibility for the CERB, and warning they may owe back some of the payments. The Liberals have promised leniency for people who will have problems paying the money back, but have yet to say what options will be available.

Boileau noted that some callers continue to complain about waiting five hours or more to speak with an agent.

He says he is worried the CRA won’t be able to meet response-time standards as the calendar ticks closer to what will likely be a complicated tax season due to the pandemic.

“I hope it (won’t) be,” Boileau says. “They are preparing for it. They know what’s going on and they’re taking all the necessary steps.”

While the pandemic has been a focus of Boileau in his first few months as ombudsperson, his office continues to work away on a review of how the CRA has handled the processing of Canada Child Benefit payments.

Boileau’s predecessor, Sherra Profit, launched the review of the CCB in late 2019 after three years of flagging overly stringent eligibility rules that prevented payments to some of Canada’s most vulnerable families.

In some cases, newcomer families to Canada haven’t receive child benefits because they can’t get needed documents, such as a note from a school or family doctor. In other situations, women fleeing domestic violence have felt like they need to get their partner’s signatures on forms and other information about custody — despite the government promising that wouldn’t be the case.

Boileau says some of these situations add complications for the CRA, which has to take time to sort things out.

“It takes time and time is of the essence with the CCB,” he says.

“It’s really touching the lives of citizens, taxpayers that are in a vulnerable state of mind.”

Boileau says his officials are currently reviewing answers from the agency to some additional questions, although there is no firm timeline on when the review will be complete.

The office of the federal auditor general is doing its own review of the CCB, which it expects to publish this year. According to the auditor general’s website, the review will focus on whether recipients were eligible for the benefits, and that payments are made in a timely and accurate manner.

ALSO READ: Feds look at using border data to find travellers applying for sickness benefit

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirustaxes

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langley School District has issued a COVID-19 notification for Lynn Fripps Elementary School. (Langley Schools)
COVID-19 exposure recorded at Langley elementary school and No Frills grocer

There are currently five local schools on exposure list

Brookswood Bobcats celebrated their B.C. championship victory at the Langley Events Centre. The Bobcats defeated Richmond’s R.A. McMath Wildcats in the final of the B.C. high school senior girls AAA basketball championships in 2016. Past championship games are being replayed this month online by LEC. (File)
Langley Events Centre takes a look back at some classic basketball championship games

Matchups from past years will be rebroadcast online for free

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

By formally adopting one or more of the new arrivals at Langley’s Critter Care wildlife refuge, donors will receive a tax receipt for their charitable donation, and an certificate which contains a photo of their orphan (Critter Care)
Adopt an animal orphan and help Langley’s Critter Care wildlife refuge

Fundraiser for registered charity offers a chance to sponsor individual animals

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation, May 8, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C.’s weekend COVID-19 cases: 532 Saturday, 508 Sunday, 438 Monday

Fraser Health still has most, eight more coronavirus deaths

B.C. Attorney General David Eby speaks in the legislature, Dec. 7, 2020. Eby was given responsibility for housing after the October 2020 provincial election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends COVID-19 rent freeze again, to the end of 2021

‘Renoviction’ rules tightened, rent capped to inflation in 2022

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on October 27, 2020. The City of Vancouver says it has purchased a former hotel at a major thoroughfare that can house about 65 units to accommodate homeless people. A joint news release by the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and city says 2075 Kingsway, Days Inn by Wyndham Vancouver, will be ready for accommodation this November. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen also announced a $51.5 million Rapid Housing Initiative for Vancouver that is expected to create 135 new affordable homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Former Vancouver hotel to be converted to 65 units for homeless people by the fall

The former Days Inn on Kingsway will be ready to house people in November

B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Murder conviction upheld in case where Surrey mom was stabbed in front of her kids

Jury in 2017 found Tanpreet Kaur Athwal, aka Sonia Kaur Gill, guilty of first-degree murder in 2007 death of Amanpreet Bahia, 33

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Most Read