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

Soloman and Zev Nagler enjoy time on the beach at Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park on a summer day. The Capital Regional District is in the process of determining whether to institute parking fees at this and eight other CRD parks. (Black Press Media file photo)
CRD parks committee rejects new Greater Victoria parking fees – again

More arguments against fee hikes, pay parking at nine parks, brought forward by committee members

The Gordon Head Recreation Centre stands in as the Quimper Regional Hospital on Feb. 23 for filming Maid, a 10-part Netflix series. (Greg Sutton/District of Saanich)
Netflix transforms Saanich recreation centre into hospital for filming

Facility was closed to public Feb. 23 for filming of Maid

From Feb. 25 to April 30, the Galloping Goose Trail will be reduced to a single lane between Gorge Road East and Burnside Road East for a Capital Regional District sewer line renewal project. (Map via the Capital Regional District)
CRD sewer work brings delays to Galloping Goose Trail

Parts of trail, Cecelia Ravine Park impacted until April 30

A wind warning is in effect for Greater Victoria Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media file photo)
Strong winds predicted for Greater Victoria

Environment Canada issues warning for Thursday afternoon

Sooke Road will be down to a single lane Thursday night while crews work on a water main connection. (Pixabay stock image)
Sooke Road down to single lane for water main connection

Night work scheduled for Thursday, early Friday morning

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

The Port of Nanaimo has signed a 50-year-agreement with DP World around short-sea shipping operations at Duke Point Terminal. (News Bulletin file photo)
Lease ‘important first step’ in $105-million Nanaimo port expansion project

Port of Nanaimo and DP World sign 50-year shipping operations agreement for Duke Point

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Most Read