'Many people being left behind': Panel report says disabled tax credit isn't doing the job

A tax credit that's supposed to lift disabled Canadians out of poverty isn't helping some of the people who need it, says a new report for the federal government.
The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa is shown on Friday, November 4, 2011. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

A tax credit that's supposed to lift disabled Canadians out of poverty isn't helping some of the people who need it, says a new report for the federal government.

In their report, released Friday, a 12-member panel appointed by the federal government says too many Canadians living with disabilities don't qualify for the Disability Tax Credit because the criteria are either too strict or too vague.

"There are many people being left behind," said Sherri Torjman, co-chair of the Disability Advisory Committee. "What we want to ensure is that they have access to the benefits and the tax measures to which they are entitled."

The federal government appointed Torjman and the 11 other members of the Disability Advisory Committee in 2017 to provide the Canada Revenue Agency with advice.

Canadian tax law offers a number of measures to help people with disabilities — a vulnerable population that tends to live with lower incomes and additional costs associated with their conditions, says the committee. The CRA also is often the gateway to other disability-related help, such as the Child Disability Benefit and the Registered Disability Savings Plan.

The report focused on the Disability Tax Credit and offered 42 recommendations.

Making the credit more accessible

Under the current program, people can only qualify for the credit if they have an impairment "all or substantially all the time," committee co-chair Karen Cohen said.

CRA defines "all or substantially all the time" as 90 per cent of the time, she said. Under the CRA's rules, Canadians who experience debilitating symptoms from time to time — like those with multiple sclerosis — might not qualify.

Sherri Torjman and Karen Cohen (L to R), co-chairs of the Disability Advisory Committee, present the Enabling Access to Disability Tax Measures report in at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on May 24, 2019. (David Thurton/ CBC)

"Many people have symptoms less than 90 per cent of the time," Cohen said. "But their condition is severe, prolonged and restricts them all the time."

The report also calls on the CRA to expand the list of conditions that make applicants automatically eligible for the disability tax credit. Currently, blindness is the only condition listed. The committee says other conditions, such as paraplegia and tetraplegia (forms of partial paralysis), and schizophrenia should be automatically eligible.

The Disability Advisory Committee's other recommendations include:

  • Making the application form for the Disability Tax Credit more accessible.

  • Improving access to the CRA and community tax clinics, especially in remote and Indigenous communities.

  • Increasing awareness among tax clinics, health care and other service providers of the eligibility requirements.

  • Capping fees for consultants who help people apply for credits.

  • Reimbursing applicants for fees associated with enrolling.

  • Ensuring people with disabilities who are too poor to file taxes still have access to the credit.

The report, entitled Enabling Access to Disability Tax Measures, was produced after the Disability Advisory Committee was reinstated in 2017 by National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier. The 12-person committee, which includes some experts who live with disabilities, presented Lebouthillier with the report earlier in May.

In a news release Friday, Lebouthillier said the CRA has implemented many of the recommendations and will work with the committee to address the more "complex" ones.

The CBC's David Thurton can be reached on FacebookTwitter or at david.thurton@cbc.ca.


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.