'Nobody should have to go through this,' says woman after H&R Block declares her dead

A Dartmouth, N.S., woman still reeling from her husband's recent death is now facing added stress after tax-preparation company H&R Block mistakenly declared her dead.

H&R Block district manager in Halifax acknowledges mistake 'has happened before' to others

Mildred Bull of Dartmouth, N.S., looks over the paperwork she compiled after H&R Block declared her dead. (Yvonne Colbert/CBC)

A Dartmouth, N.S., woman still reeling from her husband's recent death is now facing added stress after tax-preparation company H&R Block mistakenly declared her dead.

"Nobody should have to go through this. Nobody," Mildred Bull said in an interview. "We're all humans, we do make mistakes, but this is considered a reputable company and they shouldn't make a mistake like this."

It's a situation the H&R Block district manager in Halifax acknowledges has happened before to others, and the company says it moved to rectify the mistake with Bull as quickly as it could.

But that's of little solace to Bull, who says it took days to sort through the problem and H&R Block should double-check returns for mistakes before they are filed with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Bull's husband of 43 years, Gerry, died Jan. 13. In March, she went to H&R Block in Cole Harbour, N.S., to have both his tax return and her own prepared. The couple had used the company in the past without problem.

After paying H&R Block fees of $296.28, Bull left the business confident she had taken care of that part of her responsibilities following her husband's death.

But that changed April 10 when she received a cheque from the Canada Revenue Agency made out to "The Estate of the Late Mildred Bull."

"I just couldn't believe it. I was so shocked," she said.

Bull and her husband, Gerry, were married 43 years before he died in January. (Submitted)

She called the number on the back of the cheque to tell them she was really alive and after checking, the representative told her the information came from H&R Block.

"After I got off the phone I went right out to H&R Block and I said to the lady, 'You made an awful mistake,'" Bull said.

The tax preparer apologized profusely, but Bull said she told her "sorry is not cutting it for me."

The staffer made calls to CRA and Service Canada in an effort to correct the mistake, but Bull was still "red-flagged" by the system and had to take extra steps on her own to try to straighten out the mistake.

She was required to go to a Service Canada office to get her SIN reinstated, but after two visits she was told she would have to return again. However, she was later contacted by Service Canada, which sent a representative to her house and completed the necessary forms.

The next day she was informed the "red flag" on her SIN had been lifted.

Gerry Bull died in January. (Submitted)

She said the H&R Block mistake has made her life more stressful at a time when she's already dealing with the loss of her husband, along with her son's cancer diagnosis and treatments.

On its website, H&R Block promotes its "tax professionals," saying "each year we get better and better, learning from every return we file and customer we serve."

When contacted by CBC News, H&R Block's district manager in Halifax, Raylene Hopkins, said what happened to Bull "has happened before and it's human error."

She said there's no process in place at H&R Block to double-check tax returns before they are submitted to the CRA because the company completes 40,000 returns in 12 weeks and it just wouldn't be possible.

She added the company backs its product and referred CBC News to Ketchum, H&R Block's public relations firm in Toronto.

Ketchum initially said someone from H&R Block would do an interview, but then withdrew and said in an email that H&R Block had "contacted the appropriate government agencies and had the issue rectified immediately after we were informed of the error."

When CBC News pointed out that the matter was not rectified immediately, Ketchum said H&R Block would not provide further information because of its "protocol not to comment publicly on private situations."

It did not answer questions about what requirements are needed to be an H&R Block tax preparer.

H&R Block said it moved to rectify the problem once it learned of the mistake. (Dane Coote/Canadian Press)

Hopkins said she was quite sure Bull had been told the preparation fees would be refunded, but Bull said that never happened.

"They never mentioned anything about reimbursing [my fees] at all," Bull said.

Shortly after CBC News's call to H&R Block, Bull did receive a call informing her the fees would be refunded.

Bull said H&R Block needs to figure out a plan to have returns checked for accuracy before they're submitted. She said she worked at a company that shipped products and even there the orders were double-checked to ensure they were correct.

CBC News contacted another major tax preparer, Liberty Tax Services. In an email statement, spokesperson Tom Stoner said completed returns are reviewed with the client.

"The return should then be reviewed by the Liberty office manager and submitted to CRA," he said.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.