'It's a labyrinth': Montreal mom out hundreds of dollars applying for son's disability tax credit

A Montreal West mother says she's exhausted and frustrated by the cost and red tape required to access Canada's disability tax credit (DTC) for her son, who has autism.

Sharon McCarry says applying for Canada's DTC is expensive and time consuming, calls for changes to program

Sharon McCarry compares accessing the disability tax credit to a 'labyrinth.' (Kate McKenna/CBC)

A Montreal West mother says she's exhausted and frustrated by the cost and red tape required to access Canada's disability tax credit (DTC) for her son, who has autism.

Sharon McCarry says she must spend more than $1,000 every five years to have her 14-year-old son Colm rediagnosed to be eligible for the tax break — and that doesn't guarantee she'll receive it.

There are a limited number of medical professionals available to fill out the application and renewal forms, so families are often forced to pay between $1,200 and $1,500 to hire a private psychologist or psychiatrist to provide a full diagnosis.

Even if her application is properly filled out and includes a diagnosis, it's ultimately up to a Canada Revenue Agency employee to determine whether his condition is severe enough to qualify for the DTC — meaning the money she paid for the reassessment could be for naught.

"It is a literal nightmare. It is. It's a labyrinth. It's really crazy," she said.

She's calling for an upheaval of the process, which she believes discriminates against people with autism.

She's the latest in a series of voices criticizing Canada's DTC.

The chair of the board of directors of Autism Canada, Dermot Cleary, said last week in a news conference that he's hearing applications are being denied despite no marked change in the child's behaviour.

"It is common that an individual's condition did not change from the original assessment or application and yet, applications for renewal are denied upon review," he said.

Getting tax credit based on impairment effects

McCarry owns and operates La Fondation Place Coco, a non-profit organization that manages and operates a preschool offering support and intervention services for children with autism.

She says she works with children with autism frequently, and though early intervention makes a big difference in their abilities, she believes it's unfair the government requires parents to rediagnose every few years.

"Maybe it's because they think our kids can actually get better, and we certainly hope they do," she said. "But I think what they're trying to do is weed people out, and potentially, just looking for a cash grab. And it's a pity."

The CRA said in a statement that it grants the tax break on a case-by-case basis and that eligibility is not based on diagnosis, but rather on the effects of the impairment on the ability to perform the basic activities of daily living.

"The Canada Revenue Agency enforces the Income Tax Act and related acts, and is committed to administer measures for persons with disabilities in a fair, transparent, and accessible way," reads the statement.

It also said that last year, more Canadians than ever qualified for the disability tax credit under the category of mental functions.

In a statement released Friday, the CRA said that its Disability Advisory Committee would be charged with formulating recommendations on the CRA's administrative practices "through broader, more comprehensive stakeholder consultations."

The CRA will also review the applications that have been denied since May 2017.