Canada Revenue Agency should do more to help taxpayers facing hardship, ombudsperson says
Ombudsperson's office sent twice the normal number of urgent requests to CRA last year
The Canada Revenue Agency should do a better job of letting Canadians suffering hardship as a result of its actions know about the options available to them, Canada's taxpayers' ombudsperson said Thursday.
In his annual report, François Boileau said the CRA should make it easier for taxpayers facing hardship to find information that can help them online.
"If the CRA's action, inaction or delays are causing financial hardship, Canadians should make the CRA aware of their situation so they can get a timely resolution," Boileau wrote.
"We believe the CRA provides information to Canadians and to CRA employees on what to do if its actions or inactions are causing hardship. However, we believe more can be done by the CRA. Although the CRA provides information on solutions for hardship, it is not readily available on their website or by doing a quick internet search."
With so many taxpayers facing hardship last year, the ombudsperson's office sent twice its normal number of requests for CRA to resolve issues. Most of those requests were related to COVID-19 benefits.
"Many Canadians who contacted us said they didn't have any money for food, couldn't pay rent or were facing eviction," Boileau wrote. "They told us that the CRA agent they spoke with did not have a resolution for their situation."
Despite the high volume, the CRA handled the urgent requests in a timely manner, Boileau said.
Stuck on hold
Boileau said the CRA is much better at handling interactions with people who owe money. While the collections department offers the option of registering for a call back from a CRA official, those trying to contact CRA on other questions are forced to wait on hold for a long time.
"Why not have something more general so that people would stop wasting their time with calling CRA?" Boileau told a news conference. "When you have to call a CRA agent, you brace yourself and you hope for the best and that shouldn't be that way."
In his report, Boileau said "Canadians are commonly faced with long wait times, premature disconnections, or are told the queues are full."
"We acknowledge the CRA has a difficult job managing double the calls it usually receives, in excess of 40 million," Boileau wrote. "In addition to the increased call volume, we acknowledge that it is taking 50 per cent longer to resolve a caller's [question] due to more complex calls such as COVID-19 benefit applications and fraud related issues."
While the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the CRA's operations, Boileau said, the agency also took steps to adapt its operations — such as issuing cell phones to 2,000 employees so they could answer calls from Canadians.
But with the agency no longer offering counter service, and with drop boxes closed because of the pandemic, he said the CRA needs to come up with a way for people to securely submit documents electronically.
Boileau also revealed that his office is reviewing the CRA's handling of an incident in February 2021 when more than 180,000 Canadians were locked out of their CRA accounts.
Boileau's team is looking into how well the CRA communicated what was happening to Canadians.
Boileau's office says it received 3,533 complaints during the past year — more than double the 1,507 complaints it received the year before.
NDP revenue critic Niki Ashton said the report illustrates the need for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to do more to help Canadians.
"We are facing an affordability crisis, a housing crisis and Justin Trudeau's Liberals are failing to deliver the help people desperately need to put food on the table and pay rent," said Ashton.
"The Liberals will fight tooth and nail to collect sums of money from families struggling to get by, but they have no problem protecting the profits of billionaires who evade paying their fair share in Canada. This government prefers putting profits ahead of people."
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org