New Brunswick

'That was my rent money': Costly error has grieving mother on the hook for more than $3,000

More than a year after the death of her daughter, Janice Taylor is still fighting with the Canada Revenue Agency after it cleaned out her bank account — twice.

CRA cleans out woman's bank account — twice in 1 year

Janice Taylor has had her bank account emptied by the Canada Revenue Agency twice this year because of a government error. (CBC News)

For the second time this year, the Canada Revenue Agency has emptied the bank account of a grieving mother.

A government error means Janice Taylor owes more than $3,000 in overpayments by Employment and Social Development Canada.

It was about a year after the death of Taylor's infant daughter, Aspen, when the CRA first drained her account, and it happened again on Friday.

"That was my rent money, that was my light bill money, that was my grocery money and my Christmas money. Every cent," said Taylor, who lives in Fredericton.

Aspen's death

Janice Taylor's eight-month-old daughter, Aspen, died of spinal muscular atrophy in the fall of 2016. (CBC News)

Taylor was working as an apprentice auto body painter in Alberta when she got pregnant.

Aspen was born in March of 2016, but died eight months later from spinal muscular atrophy [SMA], a disease that affects the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord.

Taylor had been on maternity leave while basically living at the hospital.

"The week that Aspen passed away, I made a couple phone calls to Service Canada to try and get through to someone to let them know she was no longer with me. And I couldn't reach anyone," Taylor said.

"So I ended up getting a copy of her death certificate and driving it an hour to the nearest Service Canada desk, and handing it to the agent. And he put a note on the computer, and said, 'I'm not able to take the physical paperwork, but I can make a note on the file and your benefits will switch over automatically.'"

That didn't happen. Instead, the government deposits continued.

Overpayment grief

Canada Revenue Agency documents indicate the level of overpayments sent to Janice Taylor. (CBC News)

In January, she started to receive notices of overpayment. By March she owed more $3,000.

At that point, still grieving and only working part-time, Taylor said she began calling Service Canada to see if something could be worked out. With little luck, she decided to head back home to New Brunswick, where she could get the support of her family.

I just hope I can be a small voice for maybe the next person who shouldn't have to deal with this part of it.- Janice Taylor

The Canada Revenue Agency collects amounts due for programs administered by Employment and Social Development Canada.

And just days before Taylor left Alberta in June, the agency cleaned out her bank account.

"A few days before, I had my U-Haul packed, the CRA went and froze my bank account, froze my visa and took every cent out of my savings. Me, with no job," she said. "So it was almost $650 they took in one day."

Heading home

Janice Taylor is pictured working in an auto body shop. (CBC News)

Friends raised enough funds to send her back to New Brunswick, where she eventually landed a job in her trade.

Taylor said she contacted the CRA to set up a payment plan in November but on Friday, the CRA emptied her bank account again, leaving her unable to pay for food, rent, power or phone.

She reached an agent on Monday.

"She said, quote, 'We did not mean to cause hardship but when no contact is made we are forced to take legal action,'" Taylor said.

The line was repeated in a response from Luke Gaulton, the agency's regional director of communications.

He responded with a form email which read: "It is not the CRA's intention to cause anyone emotional or financial hardship. [...] The CRA will attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable payment arrangement that is based on the ability to pay of the individual debtor while not putting the debtor in a financial hardship situation."

Good news

After calls from CBC News to the CRA, as well as Taylor's meeting with Fredericton MP Matt DeCourcey, she received a call at work.

Taylor said the CRA apologized, agreed on a reasonable repayment schedule and said the money taken from her account would be returned in full in the next six to eight weeks. 

Now Taylor feels she might be able to get back on her feet.

"I hope that getting this out, maybe it will help someone else be more aware of what can happen," she said.

"I just hope I can be a small voice for maybe the next person who shouldn't have to deal with this part of it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Harrop loves a good story. She has been a journalist for more than 25 years.

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