Calgary senior frustrated by lack of paper tax forms receives 'overwhelming' response after CBC story

A Calgary senior says she’s been left feeling like a criminal and worried about financial fallout after failing to find paper copies of the forms needed to file her taxes on time.

Malaney Ellingson says she started looking in mid-March and couldn't find a paper copy, until she went public

Malaney Ellingson says she tried for months without success to obtain a paper form to file her taxes. (Mike Symington/CBC)

A Calgary senior says she was left feeling like a criminal and worried about financial fallout after failing to find paper copies of the forms needed to file her taxes on time.

That was, until she went public with her plight and was overwhelmed by the response from neighbours, perfect strangers and the Canada Revenue Agency, itself — all offering to help.

Malaney Ellingson, 69, says in years past, she's been able to get the tax forms from her local post office, but when she went there in mid-March, she was told they had run out.

"The postal people would say, 'We got some in, they lasted 20 minutes and they were gone, but just keep coming back because we've ordered another box,'" Ellingson told CBC News.

"So we would keep going back and they were always gone. Right down until the day I had to file, I've been going to postal outlets looking for the forms. All I received was one guidebook, that's all there was."

Ellingson says she reached out to the Canada Revenue Agencey (CRA) on April 3, asking for the forms, and was told it would take several weeks for them to arrive.

And with the forms not arriving by the May 1 deadline, Ellingson figured she'd have to pay a professional to have her taxes completed, which is onerous given her financial state.

Seniors who haven't filed taxes don't receive some government benefit payments.

Ellingson says she was only able to find a guidebook, but no forms. (Mike Symington/CBC)

"I'm a senior, I live on very limited income," she said.

"That's going to cost me my grocery money, to have my taxes done, and I think that's unfair. I don't know if Revenue Canada realizes this or not, but us seniors, we don't all have the little computer ... so we can't e-file our taxes. And even if we did, we wouldn't know how to do it."

Ellingson said she was also upset when she contacted Revenue Canada another time to check on the status of the forms and was told to ask someone for help at her local library.

"You know what, that's very personal information and for me to set that down at the library … and have it printed out on a printer that I have to walk a ways to get, I don't feel comfortable doing that. It's time for them to realize they're public servants and I'm a piece of the public."

Response after CBC story

Ellingson said everything changed in a hurry Friday morning, after her story aired on CBC radio and appeared online.

She's since had offers of support from people willing to give her their own tax forms, print online forms for her, or even do her taxes — free of charge.

"It's just overwhelming," she said.

"I have four sheets of paper in front of me with names and numbers on them and offers."

One of those calls was from a CRA employee who confirmed the agency had received Ellingson's request for paper tax forms and assured her that she wouldn't be penalized for a late return.

"She said, 'I'm going to take care of your tax form personally so that it's not deemed late.'"

It's a good feeling. Trust me. It's an awesome feeling.- Malaney Ellingson

The CRA also responded Friday afternoon to the CBC's earlier request for comment and confirmed it was reaching out to Ellingson.

"The CRA is an increasingly client-focused agency that exists to serve Canadians and we are currently overhauling our service model so that people who interact with us feel like valued clients, not just taxpayers," spokesperson Lise Newton said in an email.

Ellingson said she's enormously relieved and her anxiety is gone.

"It's taken that right off my shoulders," she said.

"It's a good feeling. Trust me. It's an awesome feeling."

'We like to have something we can touch'

Kevin Schilling, a certified financial planner in Calgary, said Ellingson's experience is far from unique as paper tax forms are still in high demand but increasingly rare.

"Sometimes you can get them [at a post office] but usually they go pretty quick and then they're gone," he said.

He said he understands the CRA's goal of reducing administrative costs by cutting down on paper but he, too, still prefers to have a hard copy of his tax documents.

"For seniors or old fogeys — and I'm getting up there — we like to have something we can touch or we can open up without turning the computer on," he said.

There are options for seniors having a hard time getting their taxes done on time.

Kerby Centre CEO Luanne Whitmarsh says they helped more than 3,000 seniors file their taxes this year. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Luanne Whitmarsh, CEO of the Kerby Centre — a resource centre for seniors — says they helped more than 3,000 older adults in Calgary file returns this year, and they had paper forms available.

But she conceded finding paper copies is getting harder.

"People get used to having their services and needs being met in a particular way and when that changes it causes some disruption in people's lives," she said.

With files from Mike Symington