CRA Tightening the ship and tightening their grip…

Income tax
Income tax (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

I’m sure you have heard that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)is tightening the ship and cracking down on tax evasion, tax shelters and finding new ways to collect more tax dollars.  Well you can thank the IRS for that.  With the IRS predicting that there are billions and billions of dollars of offshore tax revenue that they expect to bring in through FATCA it’s no wonder revenue agencies throughout the world are looking at better ways to collect tax revenues from their citizens here and abroad.

Riding the wave of FATCA, the CRA has been making public information on ways they can collect tax revenues and highlight some techniques they have been using as far back as when I worked in the CRA but may not have been so widely known to the general public.  The point is that if you know all the powers the CRA has, and know they are cracking down, then you can conclude pretty quickly that you will get caught doing whatever you may be doing that is illegal; not remitting or reporting GST/HST, accepting cash for work and not reporting it, paying an employee under the table, not declaring all your income or just not filing and hoping to stay under the radar.

The CRA’s Snitch line / Informant Leads line has been a fantastic resource for the CRA and has brought in more leads than they ever could have anticipated when creating this line.

So what is the CRA doing that you might not know about?

Data Mining

The CRA can, and have been data mining publicly available property tax information to confirm that sales or transfers of real property have been properly reported by taxpayers and they are using this information to identify taxpayers who are incorrectly reporting property sales at the preferential capital gains tax rate, or who have been flipping properties for quick gain and should be reporting them as sale of inventory, or they have been aggressively claiming properties as their principal residences and avoiding paying taxes altogether.

Tax slip matching

Advances in technology now allow the CRA to quickly determine whether a taxpayer has reported all income listed on all tax slips. Every entity, whether it as a corporation, trust, financial institution or employer is required to issue a tax information slip to all its income recipients. Typically, the area where the CRA reassesses a tax return is on unreported employment income and interest and dividends. The CRA also focuses on sales of marketable securities reported to them on the T5008 information slip. If you’ve mis-reported income multiple times, you are subject to penalties which in some cases are as high as 20% of the omitted amount. For low income earners, this can add up to more than the tax itself.

The Construction Industry

The CRA has always been concerned about construction workers not reporting all of their income which is why they piloted and maintain “Construction Teams” in the Tax Services Offices.  The new information reporting requirement on form T5018, provides the CRA the ability to ensure the proper amount of tax is being paid by construction workers and frequent audits ensure payments to workers and amounts they reported fall in line as well.

Tax shelters / Off-shore Accounts

What was once considered a safe haven where wealthy investors could put monies out of reach of their governments has now become a bone of contention as investors want to pay as little tax as possible, governments want as much tax as possible – especially from these high net-worth people and the general public want the wealthy to pay more taxes!  FATCA got the ball rolling and now the CRA has followed suit, seeking information of the investors before then taxing them back on their offshore accounts.

Tax shelters, while shielding investors from paying tax on current income, likely will have to pay taxes at some point in time down the road as the CRA tightens the regulations on these investment tools to ensure they are not tax evading schemes.

Illegal activity / Informant Leads (Snitch) Line

The CRA has its ears on the ground more than ever and the Canadian Border Services Agency (who used to be part of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency) are locating and turning up illegal activity and the CRA is following up that criminal activity with assessments and re-assessments.  Combine that with the Informant Leads line and you can quickly conclude that to the CRA crime does not pay, but criminals should pay taxes too.

Charitable donations

The CRA’s reach extends to the charitable sector as well.  Both donors and registered charities are heavily scrutinized for potential fraud especially around those donating non-cash gifts.  The CRA is looking to ensure that the amount reported on the donation receipt (and the corresponding credit claimed by the donor) accurately corresponds to the value of the donated item, and that the value is as close to fair market value as possible.

The CRA has been using these techniques for years to ensure taxpayers are paying their fair share on all sources of income and are doing so without increasing the number of employees dramatically which means a few things;  First, it may be worthwhile to review your previous filings and – if errors are identified as a result of that review – take advantage of the voluntary disclosure program.  Second, in the voluntary tax system we have in Canada, the onus is on you, the taxpayer to prove to the CRA that you are operating in line with CRA regulations which means keeping great records, having professional help and keeping receipts.  Thirdly, if you are off-side with CRA regulations and want to know what may happen to you if you get caught, you should give us a call.

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Employee or self-employed worker? Federal Court of Appeal’s 2-Step Process.

[109/365] Taxation.
Taxation. (Photo credit: kardboard604)
It is important to determine whether a worker is an employee or a self-employed individual.  Employment status directly affects a person’s entitlement to employment insurance (EI) benefits under the Employment Insurance Act.  It can also have an impact on how a worker is treated under other legislation such as the Canada Pension Plan and the Income Tax Act (ITA).

The facts of the working relationship as a whole determine the employment status.  If the worker is an employee (employer-employee relationship), the payer is considered an employer.  Employers are responsible for deducting Canada Pension Plan (CPP) contributions, EI premiums, and income tax from remuneration or other amounts they pay to their employees. They have to remit these deductions along with their share of CPP contributions and EI premiums to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

An employer who fails to deduct the required CPP contributions or EI premiums has to pay both the employer’s share and the  employee’s share of any contributions and premiums owing, plus penalties and interest.

If the worker is a self-employed individual and in a business relationship, he or she is considered to have a business.

The best way to be sure if there is any doubt is to request a ruling from the CRA.  A ruling determines whether a worker is an employee or is self-employed, and whether that worker’s employment is pensionable or insurable. If you have a payroll account and are registered on My Business Account, you can use the “Request a CPP/EI ruling” service in My Business Account.

As well, an authorized representative for the payer can also request a ruling electronically through the Authorized Representatives Section of the CRA website, here.

A payer or a worker can request a ruling by sending a letter or a completed Form CPT1, Request for a Ruling as to the Status of a Worker Under the Canada Pension Plan and/or the Employment Insurance Act, to their tax services office (TSO).

Recently, the Federal Court of Appeal (FCA), in the case of 1392644 Ontario Inc. (Connor Homes) v. Canada (National Revenue), 2013 FCA 85 (CanLII) weighed in to reconcile competing tests on the proper way to determine whether an individual is a contractor or truly an employee through a 2-step process.

This appeal in this case  involved 3 women who worked for Connor Homes, a licensed operator of foster homes and group homes for children with serious behavioural and developmental disorders, as area supervisors and/or child and youth workers.  Each worked under a contract that stipulated she was an independent contractor “responsible for payment of all necessary remittances, including CPP, EI and Taxes”.  Each was paid at a specified hourly rate or flat rate that depended on the service provided and provided those services in accordance with the homes’ policies and procedures manual.

The CRA ruled that each of these workers were engaged in employment for purposes of the Canada Pension Plan and the Employment Insurance Act., which Connor Homes disagreed with.

In hearing the appeal, the FCA commented that the question of an individual’s working status has become increasingly important with the trend towards outsourcing and short-term contracts and the consequent effect on entitlements to Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan benefits. The Court also acknowledged that although the question is simple in theory, it is difficult to apply with any degree of certainty given its fact specific nature and the ever-changing workplace.

Many employers also tend to categorize employees as independent contractors so they are not responsible for withholding and remitting CPP, EI and Tax to the CRA on behalf of the employee and to avoid being responsible for benefits.  If the CRA determines  otherwise, the employer is responsible for both the employer and the employee portions of CPP, EI and tax (plus P&I) until they are current.

The FCA refined a number of lower court decisions into a two-part test;

1st step: Is there a mutual understanding or common intention between the parties regarding their relationship? This step generally will be determined by the written contractual arrangements and behaviour of the parties and is quite subjective.  For example, is there a written agreement, were invoices issued for services rendered, was the service provider registered for GST/HST, were the income tax filings consistent with that of an independent contractor?

If so, then;

2nd step:  Do the pertinent facts support that the worker is providing services as a business on her own account?  The factors to consider include the level of control exercised over the worker’s activities, and whether the worker provides her own equipment, hires helpers, manages and assumes financial risk, and has an opportunity of profit in the performance of her tasks.  This step is very objective.

In this appeal, the FCA found that, although the parties intended their relationship to be that of independent contractors, they were, in fact, employees.  The degree of control exercised over their work was the same as that exercised over employees, they were limited in what they could earn and they took on no financial risks.  Although the individuals were expected to use their own motor vehicles, this factor was insufficient to outweigh all others.

So if after this ruling and after a review of the CRA website, you are still unsure if you, or your worker is an employee or an independent contractor, then it’s best to get a ruling to be sure.