Nova Scotia

New Minas woman frustrated with taxman until CBC gets involved

A New Minas, N.S., woman says common sense and checking her tax records would have quickly corrected a tax mistake, but CRA didn't listen.

'It boggles my brain. I live here. I pay taxes. Why can they not search their records?'

New Minas resident Patricia Moir was unable to convince the CRA that she should not have to pay taxes on her Tax-Free Savings Account. The CRA said she made the contributions while living outside the country but the only time she spent outside Canada was before TFSAs were created. (Steve Berry)

Trying to convince the federal government that she lives in Canada has been a frustrating experience for a New Minas, N.S., woman.

She says all the Canada Revenue Agency had to do was apply some common sense and check her tax returns.

"It boggles my brain," 76-year-old Patricia Moir told CBC. "I live here. I pay taxes. Why can they not search their records?"

Moir was born in Canada and has lived here all her life with the exception of a period of time from 1991-93 when she accompanied her husband to Abu Dhabi, where he taught English. There was a short stay in Florida in 1994.

When they returned home, Moir's husband filed income tax returns, but she did not because she had no income.

She started filing returns in 2007, when she received OAS and CPP and when income splitting came into effect. She has filed a return every year since.

Despite that, CRA reassessed her Tax Free Savings Account (TSFA) in 2017 and 2018, telling her she owes more than $10,000 in taxes because she was not a Canadian resident when she made the contributions.

TSFAs only came into being in 2009, 15 years after Moir returned to Canada, meaning she could not have contributed to them while she was out of the country.

The first reassessment came in August 2017, telling her she owed more than $3,500. She called CRA to ask why and was told it was because she was a non-resident of Canada.

She explained the situation, but was advised she needed to file a formal dispute, which she did online at the time.

"They sent a confirmation and a case number and said that someone would contact us when our case had been assigned," Moir said, adding more than a year later she still has not been been contacted.

But in July of this year she did receive another reassessment of her TFSA, this one informing her she owed another $7,000.

CRA "don't actually listen"

She called CRA but says she got nowhere.

"The people on the line don't seem to want to listen," Moir said. "They put stuff into a computer but they don't actually listen to what a person is saying."

Moir said she explained the situation and suggested CRA check her income tax returns, passport and bank accounts as proof she lived here.

"Why should I have to prove that I live in the country when I pay income taxes every year?" she asked.

She filed another formal dispute over the second reassessment and sent it by Canada Post.

Moir said she was able to track the mail to CRA's office in Sudbury, Ont., but CRA says it has no record of receiving it.

CRA responds quickly after CBC inquiry

Frustrated with her experience, Moir contacted CBC, which relayed her situation to CRA.

Within two days, she was contacted by CRA and told it had reviewed her case, determined she was in the country when the TFSA contributions were made and that she would receive a letter of confirmation and reversal of her assessment.

"I was pleased to hear back from someone because at the back of everybody's mind, if they think they owe money, it makes you irritable because you know you haven't done anything wrong," she said, noting her husband always pays bills on time.

Moir subsequently received another call from CRA a week later confirming the first call. She has been given a name and contact number in the government department in the event there are further issues.

Check that box

Moir said she was told the problem arose because she did not file a tax return when she returned to Canada. That meant she didn't check a box on the return stating that she was a Canadian resident.

Etienne Biram, a CRA spokesman, said CRA cannot discuss individual cases because of confidentiality.

He said while a non-resident of Canada can hold a valid social insurance number and be allowed to open a TFSA, any contributions made while a non-resident will be subject to a one per cent tax for each month the contribution stays in the account.

"In addition to the tax of one per cent per month on the contributions made while a non-resident, an individual may also be subject to a separate tax of one per cent per month if any of the same contributions create an excess amount in the TFSA," Biram said.

He said taxpayers may file a notice of objection within 90 days from the date the CRA sends the notice of assessment, adding objections are resolved on a case-by-case basis and the timelines for resolution depend on complexity.

Moir is grateful the matter has finally been straightened out but said CRA can resolve these situations much easier by checking their own records.

"I know that they get a lot of calls but it only takes a few minutes to bring up a person's CRA account and I just don't understand why they wouldn't do that … why they would harass a person rather than fix the problem."

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

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.