Nova Scotia

Woman with debilitating illness fights the taxman in court — and wins

Barbara Cochrane of Nova Scotia had qualified for the disability tax credit for several years prior to being denied the benefit in 2016. She appealed to the Tax Court of Canada.

Canada Revenue Agency ordered to reconsider denying disability tax credit to Nova Scotia woman

The Tax Court of Canada has ruled a Nova Scotia woman qualifies for the disability tax credit after the Canada Revenue Agency refused her claim. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A Nova Scotia woman who suffers from debilitating illnesses has won a court case against the Canada Revenue Agency, which has been ordered to reconsider its decision to deny her the disability tax credit.

Barbara Cochrane had qualified for the tax credit for several years prior to being denied the benefit in 2016. She appealed the decision to the CRA, but was again denied and so turned to the Tax Court of Canada.

Cochrane suffers from a variety of illnesses, including fibromyalgia, which causes interrupted sleep. She has pain and anxiety to the point where she is unable to function many days of the week.

Despite that, in what may have seemed a David versus Goliath battle, she was able to represent herself in court against a government lawyer.

The disability tax credit, which can be worth thousands of dollars to those who qualify, is designed to provide help for people who have severe or prolonged mental or physical impairments.

Applying for and receiving the disability tax credit has been a frustrating exercise for some Canadians who have complained the CRA has lost their documents, delayed decisions and, like Cochrane, had their previously approved credit denied in subsequent years.

Canadians have cited a number of problems accessing the disability tax credit. (CBC)

According to the Tax Court ruling released last week, Cochrane told the court during a hearing in Halifax in September that friends visit to cook and clean for her because "I am rarely able to do so."

Her doctor provided the CRA with a letter citing her illnesses which cause prolonged impairment, a requirement of qualifying for the disability tax credit. 

He said she was forced to retire from her job because of her medical conditions and treatments have failed.

Despite that, the CRA denied her claim.

In his decision, Justice Bruce Russell said the government "erroneously denied" Cochrane's 2016 application. He referred the matter back to the minister of national revenue for reconsideration and reassessment, on the basis that Cochrane does qualify for the disability tax credit.

CBC spoke with Cochrane, who hadn't yet read the decision and did not want to comment.

In an email to CBC, CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram said the Government of Canada recognizes that living with a disability can have a significant impact on the daily life of individuals and their families.

He said the CRA cannot comment on individual cases because of privacy and noted CRA has 30 days to decide whether it will appeal.

"The courts provide Canadians with a further independent review of disputed issues, and court decisions serve to clarify the law and resolve disputes," Biram said.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.