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

Abstract Developments is donating $75,000 to support community programming at The Cridge Centre for the Family. (Courtesy of The Cridge Centre)
Victoria developer builds support for community programs

Abstract Developments donates $75,000 to The Cridge Centre for the Family

February 17, 2021 - Kaelyn (L) and Costin Campbell are Goldstream News Gazette 2021 Local Heroes.
Pint-sized duo inspires others to be green

Costin and Kaelyn Campbell are this year’s Environmental Heroes

Erin Oldman received a scholarship through Royal Roads University (RRU), called the Legacy Award, which is given out once every five years. Oldman graduated from RRU with a Masters of Arts in Human Security and Peacebuilding, and is using the award to establish a charity called International Humanitarian Assessments, which helps people in war-torn areas of the Middle East. (Photo contributed by Erin Oldman)
Royal Roads University graduate receives $25,000 award

Erin Oldman will use the award to establish a charity in the Middle East

Sandy Carmichael is a Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as Seniors’ Champion. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Worker bee returns to volunteer: Sandy Carmichael a fixture at Langford Royal Canadian Legion

Sandy Carmichael is the 2021 recipient of the Seniors’ Champion Award

SD 62 (Sooke) has announced a COVID-19 exposure at David Cameron Elementary in Colwood. Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24. (Black Press Media File).
COVID-19 exposure at Colwood’s David Cameron Elementary

Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24.

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

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic oportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Dasher is back home with mom Christine Girvin thanks to some help from BC Ferries staff. Photo supplied
The cat came back, with help from BC Ferries staff

After Dasher made a dash, staff in Comox found her and got her home safe

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Most Read