Some say qualified taxpayers who can’t comply with onerous bureaucratic standards are being hurt
Annual reviews of federal benefits doled out to Canadians have allowed the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to net more than $1 billion over the past five years — which critics say has taken away money from those who need it most.
According to CBC News, CRA numbers show that benefit reviews conducted since 2013-2014 have found $3.021 billion to be repaid by taxpayers; the amount the agency found it owed taxpayers, meanwhile, totalled $1.837 billion. That resulted in a net collection of $1.184 billion over five years from those reviews.
Over the past five years, 332,131 taxpayers’ accounts have been reviewed annually on average to determine eligibility for benefits, including the GST/HST credit and the Canada Child Benefit. Of those, around 62% were found to need some form of adjustment; eligibility could change because of shifts in income, marital status, and custody status.
“At its core, the objective of the benefits validation program is to ensure that the right recipients receive the right amount of benefits — no more and no less,” CRA officials told CBC News in an email. “The program does not have any revenue targets.”
But while the agency said its program is being run on a principle of fairness, Conservative national revenue critic Pat Kelly said that some Canadians who do qualify for benefits “simply can't comply with the demands put on them to prove their claim with the CRA.”
Gerry Campbell, tax specialist with Liberty Tax Services in Toronto, told CBC News that the CRA requires people to provide their information within 30 days, or else they can get cut off. But in cases where someone objects to a CRA decision and submits documents for further review, Campbell said the CRA has no commitment to deal with that submission within a certain time.
Some taxpayers have come forward saying that the agency’s requests for proof of eligibility are too onerous. In certain cases, some claimed that they were able to comply with the 30-day time limit to submit requirements, but the CRA does not believe them. Others still have alleged that the agency lost documents they provided or gave them contradictory information via their call centres.
In its own focus group study of Canadians whose benefits were cut off and subsequently restored, the CRA found many encountered problems with the benefits validation process. The glitches included failing to receive an initial review letter requesting documentation, not being given enough time to get the required proof, and being asked for documents that were too difficult to put together. The call centres were also a pain point, with many saying they were unable to get a CRA representative on the phone.
The study recommended that the agency extend its initial time allotment for Canadians to comply with a review. So far, the CRA hasn’t done that, instead adjusting the process so that rather than automatically adjusting the benefits of taxpayers that haven’t responded, it will contact the taxpayer and offer access to the agent working their case if they need more time.