Low-income Canadians will be able to file their tax returns by phone this year.

Under a new automated service called "File My Return" announced by National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier today, about 950,000 Canadians with low or fixed incomes that don't change from year-to-year can file their returns by answering a series of questions over the telephone.

That represents between two and five per cent of all tax filers.

People eligible for the new service will receive personalized invitation letters beginning mid-February. They will be able to access all the deductions, benefits and credits they are entitled to without having to do any of the paper work or calculations, according to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

A CRA official said the changes are to make the system easier and to encourage more people to file.

A former program called Telefile that allowed people to file basic returns by phone was cancelled in 2013 by the former Conservative government to encourage more people to file online. At the time, the change was expected to affect about 300,000 people across the country and require fewer tax information packages to be mailed out.

Former phone service cancelled

John Power, a spokesman for the minister, said the Telefile service had required users to complete their income tax and benefit return before calling, which meant they had to do their own calculations beforehand.

Users had to know which deductions and non-refundable tax credit amounts they could claim, then users were prompted to enter their completed tax return information line by line on the telephone call.

The new File my Return service uses information in the CRA's records, and information provided on the call to complete and file the person's income tax and benefit return, automatically figuring out the deductions, benefits and credits they are eligible for.

Paper packages mailed

Lebouthillier also announced that taxpayers who filed using paper tax forms in past years will now receive a tax package directly by mail this year instead of having to pick one up at a Canada Post, Service Canada, or Caisse populaire Desjardins outlet.

A limited number of the 2017 tax return guide and forms book will still be available at those locations. 

About two million Canadians filed their tax returns on paper last year, compared to four million in 2012.

"We know that Canadians lead busy lives and doing taxes can sometimes be a challenge" the minister said in a release.

"This is especially the case for people with reduced mobility, people who live far from service locations and people without internet access. The CRA is working to make it easier and simpler to find, complete and file a return."

CRA

CRA will be mailing tax file packages to people who filed by mail last year.

The paper packages were discontinued in 2013, but Power said many Canadians were dissatisfied with this change.

"It was considered an inconvenience, particularly for those with mobility challenges or residing far from retail outlets. This also led to the challenge of getting the right product in the right place at the right time in the right language," he said.

The changes to make the system more convenient and user-friendly come as the CRA faces widespread criticism over service delivery.

In November, Auditor General Michael Ferguson reported on problems with the CRA call centres, where people either could not get through or were receiving incorrect information.

CBC News has also reported on several cases where Canadians, including single mothers, were forced to battle the tax agency.

Canada's ombudsman for taxpayers Sherra Profit also told CBC that service issues at the Canada Revenue Agency are systemic. Her office received almost 1,500 complaints about the CRA last year. 

With files from Karina Roman