CRA apologizes, fixes mix-up after wrongly declaring woman dead

A Winnipeg woman hoping to start school in dental hygiene had trouble getting a student loan after Canada Revenue Agency declared her dead. But after she spoke to the CBC News I-Team about her situation, the CRA brought her back to the land of the living.

'It took you 2 seconds to kill me but it takes you what, months to un-kill me?' says Alyanna Lapuz

Winnipeg woman declared dead by Canada Revenue Agency is alive and well

7 years ago
Duration 2:27
A Winnipeg woman wants the Canada Revenue Agency to bring her back from the dead after the taxman accidentally declared her deceased in December.

The Canada Revenue Agency has brought a Winnipeg woman back from the dead, so to speak, after the taxman accidentally declared her deceased in December.

"It feels good. I'm excited. I want to get my student loan and everything and just get on with my life," said Alyanna Lapuz, 21, who had tried for weeks to have the agency address the error.

Lapuz had received a letter from the CRA on Jan. 7 addressed to the "Estate of the Late Alyanna Lapuz."

"I was just like, 'What is this?'" Lapuz said. She called CRA and spoke to an agent: "She said I was deceased."

Lapuz believes premature reports of her death may have occurred when she called the agency in December to switch her GST cheques to direct deposit. 

"From direct deposit I became deceased," Lapuz said. "I didn't know you could just click a button and make somebody dead."

Lapuz called the agency back repeatedly over the next few weeks, only to learn she was still considered dead.   

What was initially an amusing mix-up became a stressful problem requiring multiple calls and visits to the agency to fix the mistake.

"I broke into tears because I was just so frustrated," she said. "I didn't know what to do any more. No one was helping."
Alyanna Lapuz shows CBC's Katie Nicholson the government records showing that she 'died' on Sept. 15 2015. (Dave Gaudet/CBC)

It didn't take long for her newly deceased status to interfere with her life. Lapuz is slated to start a dental hygienist program in Toronto in April, but her student loan application was put on hold because her social insurance number was invalid. The reason? Lapuz was also flagged in that system as deceased.

"If I don't have my student loan, I don't know how I'm paying for school," Lapuz said.

Lapuz is angry the agency had not been able to tell her how it happened or why it was taking so long to fix. She's also worried the situation may affect her taxes and other government documentation.

"If you can click a button and make me dead, you can reverse it as fast as you did it," Lapuz said. "It took you two seconds to kill me, but it takes you what, months to un-kill me?"

Late Thursday afternoon, Lapuz told CBC News a CRA manager in Calgary phoned her to apologize and say everything has been fixed.

She added that the manager informed her that two employees who made errors in her case will be spoken to.

"She says that it was an employee error, so that was nice, and she's saying that everything's OK now," Lapuz said.

Lapuz said she also learned from Service Canada that her social insurance number has had its "deceased" flag removed.

RAW: Alyanna Lapuz is back from the dead

7 years ago
Duration 0:42
The Canada Revenue Agency has brought a Winnipeg woman back from the dead, so to speak, after the taxman accidentally declared her deceased in December.

Thousands wrongly declared dead

This isn't the first time an error like this has happened. Between 2007 and 2013, 5,489 Canadians have been erroneously entered as deceased in CRA's system.

It has happened so often that in 2014 the Office of the Taxpayers' Ombudsman released a report on the problem and made eight recommendations to fix it.

Among the recommendations were improvements to the clarity of CRA's forms for reporting death and following up with people who report deaths to the agency "to substantiate the date of death."
Lapuz wrote to the CRA to tell the agency she was not dead, but the agency was slow to act.

The CRA initially declined an interview and noted it could not speak about individual cases.

In a statement to CBC News, the agency said the rate of these errors has dropped since 2013.

"Despite safeguards to ensure the accuracy of our files, occasionally information we receive is incorrect or human error can occur during the processing of a taxpayer's information," the statement said.

"When CRA becomes aware of an error, we do inform our partners. The CRA responds quickly to take corrective measures when an error is reported. In fact, the CRA aims to rectify the situation within 24 hours."

However, it's been three weeks since Lapuz first reported the error to the CRA, and until Thursday afternoon she had yet to be assured the problem would be fixed.

It all comes down to the amount of people that are available to do the job.– Bob Campbell, national president, Union of Taxation Employees

Bob Campbell, the national president of the Union of Taxation Employees, which represents 25,000 CRA employees across the country, said errors in any job are likely to happen. But he points to the 6,000 jobs cut from CRA over the past four years.

"You cannot have less people doing a lot more work," said Ottawa-based Campbell. "You're only allowed so much time on each file or on each item you're dealing with."

Campbell sees a connection between Lapuz's problem and CRA staffing. "It all comes down to the amount of people that are available to do the job," he said.

Alyanna Lapuz wants the Canada Revenue Agency to bring her back from the dead so she can get on with her life.

7 years ago
Duration 1:07
CRA mistakenly declared the 21-year-old dead, now she can't get a student loan.

Whatever the reason, Lapuz just wants to be back among the living.

"I feel like as days go by my student loans are not going to work, I'm worried my credit cards are not going to work. I'm running out of time," she said. "This should have been fixed the first time I called."

The taxpayers' ombudsman declined to comment for this story.

The CRA said it has accepted and acted on all eight recommendations from the ombudsman's report.

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