Delays plague CRA in midst of restructuring efforts

Processing times for taxpayer-requested assessments reach 18 months in some cases

Delays plague CRA in midst of restructuring efforts
Canadians requesting assessments and submitting claims to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) may face an extreme test of patience.

The CRA has acknowledged in a statement that it is “taking longer than usual” to process taxpayer-requested assessments. The agency cited several contributing factors, including an “unusual increase” in the number of requests, a lack of documents in certain cases, and possible technical complications, according to the Financial Post.

While the CRA claims that it’s meeting its service standards “on average,” more than a dozen tax consultants and anonymous CRA employees said delayed assessments can take more than six months, with some reaching 18 months. Months-long delays have also been reported for some taxpayer-requested re-assessments for businesses.

In the case of statutory forms, where funds are paid back to an individual or business after assessments, processing times have increased from 10 days to 30 days over the past year, and can reach 60 days.

According to tax consultants, taxpayers request assessments to appeal or verify CRA decisions, report processing errors, or apply for additional tax credits. “If you’re wrong and it takes you a year or a year and a half to settle, they may be charging you at rates of 5%, non-deductible,” said Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning at CIBC. “It’s very punitive.”

“There is a direct link between the changes last year and the delays we are seeing today,” said Marc Brière, the president of the Union of Taxation Employees, referring to an agency streamlining effort announced by Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier last November. The CRA said it hoped the changes would help it deal with the growing number of Canadians filing online, which it said has gone from 12 million in 2005 to over 23 million.

The number of offices handling taxpayer-requested assessments has been reduced from nine to four. One Toronto call centre has been shut down, and numerous other auditing and collections centres have been consolidated into three offices.

The resulting shakeup of responsibilities within the CRA has also led to many long-term employees being placed in roles they’d never been trained for, Brière said. Some who originally did tax collections, for instance, might have been given roles in call centres, while some from the auditing division might have gotten reassigned into collections. “The training involved and the personality you might need to be a collection officer might be totally different than in a call centre,” he said.

Other tax consultants have noted worse customer service at the CRA, partly due to a disconnect between call centres that take questions about ongoing tax forms, and tax centres that do the processing.

As of now, it could take over six months for an income-tax objection to be assigned to an internal agent. Meanwhile, claimants are generally required to respond to the CRA within 30 to 45 days.

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