Nova Scotia

'Where did that money go?' Seniors cut off from benefit blame CRA mixup

Some low-income seniors in Nova Scotia are blaming the Canada Revenue Agency for mishandling their income-tax paperwork after they were abruptly cut off from the guaranteed income supplement.

Liberal MP Bill Casey says 'processing problems' to blame after 'raft' of seniors don't get GIS cheques

Susan Miller says the $600 per month she receives from the guaranteed income supplement makes up a large portion of the income she shares with her partner. (CBC)

Some low-income seniors in Nova Scotia are blaming the Canada Revenue Agency for mishandling their income-tax paperwork after they were abruptly cut off this week from a federal income supplement.

Their cases are among what one Liberal MP describes as a "raft of unexpected interruptions" for people who thought they would receive the cheques, an issue he too blames on "processing problems" at the federal agency.

Susan Miller of Chester Basin, N.S., said she and her partner rely on a $600 monthly guaranteed income supplement (GIS) payment, but it did not arrive at the usual time in the last week of July.

"I always check my balance, and when I checked my balance it was out a considerable amount of money and I couldn't figure out obviously at that point what had happened," she said.

"So then sort of the bottom fell out of my world, where did that money go? Because everything I have is accounted for."

Nothing to indicate changes

The GIS is a monthly payment available to Old Age Security pension recipients with a low income. Recipients apply for it on their income-tax form each year.

Miller said she filled out her income-tax forms and mailed them in mid-April, using the government-supplied envelope with a pre-printed address of the St. John's processing centre.

"There was nothing in the tax forms or in the envelope to indicate that there would be any changes," she said.  

Pre-printed envelope

However, she said in early July she got the first indication that something was wrong when she did not receive a small GST supplement that she was expecting. Miller called the CRA. 

"I thought it was odd, but at any rate [the agent] explained that I probably hadn't sent the tax forms in to the right place," she said. "Which wouldn't be the case, because it was a pre-printed envelope."

"He advised me at that point that they had moved … and that all of the mail perhaps hadn't arrived yet."

Miller said by July 27 her taxes had still not been processed, and she received a letter from the CRA notifying her she was not entitled to the GIS because the CRA had not received "all the income information required."

Susan Miller said she did her taxes manually and posted them in a pre-printed envelope to St. John's. (CBC)

When they receive the GIS, Miller and her partner have a combined income of roughly $2,000 per month. Without the GIS, that will now drop to approximately $1,400 for the month, she said. 

"I have a certain amount of money, and I pay my bills, and what's left over is for us to survive on for the month. That $600 means I'm going to have a problem." 

'It was done in plenty of time'

Kelly Pouchelu of Northside-East Bay, Cape Breton, said both her 84-year-old father and her aunt received a similar letter from the CRA, telling them they did not qualify because they had failed to submit all the required information. 

Pouchelu said she hand-posted her father's taxes in April — also in a pre-addressed envelope.

"I was very angry," she said. "It absolutely is not their fault. I know, because I followed through his income tax, and it was done in plenty of time and mailed at a post office. All complete, I had the copy in my hands."

Pouchelu said her father previously received almost $400 from the GIS, and her aunt received about the same amount. 

"That's hundreds of dollars. They rely on that. There's mortgages and rents, and medications and food, and if they have to wait until this gets sorted out, until the end of month, that's five weeks almost." 

Pouchelu believes her family is not alone, because her aunt encountered many other seniors at the Sydney Service Canada office trying to sort out a similar problem. 

"There was a lineup behind her of seniors, with the same envelope."

CRA response

In a statement to CBC, the CRA said the office in St. John's has become a new "National Verification and Collection Centre." That transition meant centres elsewhere in the country now process tax returns. 

However, the agency said the issue of some seniors not receiving the GIS is not related to the change in duties at the St. John's office. 

"Each year, as a result of changes to individuals' tax situation or information not received by the federal government, some individuals who were entitled to benefits the previous year may not receive them," the statement said.

The Canada Revenue Agency said moving processing out of St. John's is not to blame for some seniors not receiving GIS payments. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The CRA did acknowledge that some of its old envelopes were marked with a St. John's address. 

"The CRA distributes tax forms and envelopes to Canada Post outlets each year," the CRA's statement said. "Those forms and envelopes are prepared well in advance of the tax season.

"We expected to receive all of these returns at the St. John's office as per previous years and then we rerouted them to be processed in Ontario," the agency said.

It said post offices in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saint John, Kingston, Ont., St. Catharines, Ont., Peterborough, Ont., Moncton and Bathurst, N.B., would have received the paper envelopes addressed for the former St. John's processing centre.

The agency could not immediately answer questions about how many people were affected or how long it would take to resolve the issue. 

MPs get involved

On Thursday, Susan Miller went to the office of her MP, Bernadette Jordan, to give Jordan the power to ask for information on her case. 

In an email to CBC, Jordan said her office is aware of "a small number of situations where seniors have been notified that Service Canada has yet to receive their income-tax return data resulting in confusion around their eligibility for GIS."

Jordan said she encouraged seniors to submit the missing information to Service Canada as quickly as possible. 

"We recognize that this presents a serious problem for those affected," Jordan wrote.

Bill Casey, MP for Cumberland-Colchester. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Bill Casey, MP for Cumberland-Colchester, sent out a news release Friday morning blaming "processing problems" for "a raft of unexpected interruptions" to GIS cheques.

Casey said his staff took "an unusually high number of inquiries from seniors," and urged anyone affected to call Service Canada quickly. 

Susan Miller says she hasn't been given any indication how long it will take to have her income tax processed. 

"So right now, we're stuck. We don't know how long this is going to take. The problem is, the longer it takes, the more complicated things become."