CRA apologizes to single moms fighting for child benefits

After a number of CBC News stories chronicling single parents battles with the Canada Revenue Agency, the agency has reached out to apologize and promise to review or resolve the problems. But dozens more people who didn't make the news continue to wait for action.

Tax agency moves to end battles for mothers profiled by CBC News

Kim Roberts, a single mom in Toronto, has been battling the Canada Revenue Agency over child benefits after it refused to accept a court order detailing the custody arrangements as proof. (Kim Roberts)

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has moved to end its battles with five single mothers after they were profiled in a number of CBC News stories.

Four out of five parents featured in articles and broadcasts since November said they received calls from CRA officials last Friday, while the fifth was contacted by CRA today. The women, who don't know each other, had similar accounts of officials apologizing for their experience with the agency and offering to help fix the problems in an expeditious manner.

"The woman I spoke to, right off the bat, she apologized," said Kim Roberts, a single mom in Toronto. "I was completely shocked, because that is not what I was expecting."

Roberts has been trying to prove to the CRA that she has custody of her son and can claim him as a dependent. She sent in a court order outlining the custody arrangements she has with her ex-husband, but the agency said that was insufficient and ordered her to pay more than $2,300 for past benefits and tax credits it said she should not have received.

In her call, Roberts says, the CRA official asked for one additional document, told her specifically how to write it and then expedited her case with a promise that she would get a letter telling her no money was owed.

CBC News received more than 100 emails from people complaining about their struggles with the CRA, particularly about proving their marital status or custodial arrangements. If the CRA doesn't believe a parent is on their own, or that they are solely responsible for the care of their children, it will count both parents' income together, which reduces the amount of child benefits or tax credits a parent might be eligible for.

Jade Dolliver was facing her second CRA review to prove custody of her three sons in order to maintain her child benefits. After her call from the agency, she too is reassured it has been resolved.

Dolliver found out she was in the unusual position of a repeat review because her ex-partner had tried to claim the benefits for their children on his taxes.

She said it's absurd that the agency doubted her and the court order she sent in, but believed her ex who had no proof of his claim.

"Just because he tries to claim them when he has nothing to do with them, it's like they look at me and say, 'Oh well, you're a liar,'" she said, adding that if the CRA had told her what triggered the review when it began, she would have been able to provide more specific and relevant proof.

Jade Dolliver says the CRA should never have doubted her claim of having custody of her sons in the first place. (Jade Dolliver)

The lack of specific information in the generic form letters from the CRA to taxpayers is an issue the federal ombudsman for taxpayers has highlighted in her recent annual report.

Ombudsman Sherra Profit also criticized the list of documents the agency requests as proof from Canadians, such as letters from doctors, school officials, bank managers or a members of the clergy to attest to someone's marital status or custodial arrangements.

"The list has not evolved with our times," said Profit.

In response to questions CBC emailed to the CRA, the agency said it cannot discuss specific cases due to confidentiality provisions in the Income Tax Act.

But it said it is working on changes to make it easier for people to validate their eligibility for benefits, and that it is looking at ways different branches within the agency can share information to make it simpler for taxpayers to get their issues addressed.

The CRA also defended the time frame of 30 days which it gives people to submit their documentation to prove their eligibility. The agency said if taxpayers need more time, they can call.

Marica Peel fought the CRA for six months and only got a resolution after going to the CBC News with her story. (Marica Peel)

Ashley Read, a single mother in Regina, finds that laughable.

"It takes more than 30 days to get through to the CRA," she said, adding she experienced first-hand one of the main determinations from the auditor general's scathing fall report. That report found that the CRA blocked 29 million calls, more than half of what it received.

Read was the only mother of the five profiled by CBC who had not received a call from the CRA about her case, which included a tax bill of more than $1,800. But on Wednesday, after this story was published, CRA called and asked her to resubmit her documents so her case could be reviewed. "We'll see what happens," Read said in an email to CBC News.

Ashley Read heard from CRA about her case after this article was published. (CBC)

Marica Peel's story was the first to be brought to light by CBC News in November. Peel also got a call last week from an agency official.

"He apologized for the hassle and any confusion that happened," she said, adding that she resubmitted her documents to prove she is separated.

This time those papers were enough for the agency.

Peel said the official told her that the agency is reversing its previous decision and that her benefits will be made right.

"It's a big weight off my shoulders. A total relief," she said.

Karli Baxter is relieved the CRA says she no longer owes $20,000, but says it should not have taken the media to get a resolution. (CBC)

Karli Baxter's child benefits stopped and she faced a $20,000 bill from the taxman for past benefits and credits after the CRA didn't believe she was separated from her husband.

They called me because I was on the news.— Karli Baxter

She too got a call last Friday. Baxter says she resubmitted, to a special fax number, all the same documents she had already sent in three times before. As in Peel's case, this time the CRA accepted her proof.

Baxter said she was told her benefits will be reinstated and she no longer owes that $20,000.

"It wasn't resolved because they picked my name out of a hat and said, 'Oh we'll help her out,'" she said. "They called me because I was on the news."

She wonders how all the other people in similar battles with the CRA, but who haven't been featured on the news, will find their resolution.

Between the more than 100 emails sent to the CBC and the hundreds of complaints flooding the office of the taxpayers' ombudsman, it seems clear there are many more Canadians still looking for a fix to their CRA struggles.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said:

"We know that there is still significant work to be done, and we are taking the necessary steps to improve services to Canadians, particularly the most vulnerable."