The Truth and Myths Around the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief Program

There is quite a lot of information on the Internet around the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) Taxpayer Relief Program (formerly known as fairness).  Understandably, there is also a lot of misinformation around this program.  After having spent almost 11 years working in the CRA – beginning as an entry-level collector and working my way up through the division to a team leader before taking my MBA and heading into the private sector –  I have learned quite a lot about how the Taxpayer Relief program actually works.Myth vs Reality

This post will identify the key objectives of the program straight from the CRA, and then highlights some common myths about the program and the actual fact about why it makes sense to invest considerable time and effort into an application, or engage the services of someone who knows the program inside and out.

The Taxpayer Relief program was set up to allow for the Minister of National Revenue to grant relief from penalty and/or interest when the following types of situations prevent a taxpayer (individual or corporation) from meeting their tax obligations:

  • Extraordinary circumstances;
  • Actions of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA);
  • Inability to pay or financial hardship;
  • Other circumstances

The program distinguishes between “cancelling” and “waiving” of penalties and/or interest as the CRA understands that granting relief to a taxpayer only to see them smothering in penalties and interest again is an exercise in futility.

The term “cancel” refers to a penalty or interest amount that is assessed or charged for which relief is granted, in whole or in part, by the CRA.

The term “waive” refers to a penalty or interest amount that is not yet assessed or charged for which relief is granted, in whole or in part, by the CRA.

The term “Taxpayer” includes individual, employer or payer, corporation, partnership, organization, trust, estate, goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax (GST/HST) registrant or claimant.

Now, you or your client, has been charged penalties and / or interest and you want to know if you qualify.  Look no further than the CRA website, and their section on Taxpayer Relief, here.

Circumstances that may warrant relief include;

Extraordinary circumstances

Penalties or interest may be cancelled or waived in whole or in part when they result from circumstances beyond a taxpayer’s control.  Extraordinary circumstances that may have prevented a taxpayer from making a payment when due, filing a return on time, or otherwise complying with a tax obligation include, but are not limited to, the following examples:

  • Natural or human-made disasters, such as a flood or fire;
  • Civil disturbances or disruptions in services, such as a postal strike;
  • Serious illness or accident; and
  • Serious emotional or mental distress, such as death in the immediate family.

Actions of the CRA

The CRA may also cancel or waive penalties or interest when they result primarily from CRA actions, including:

  • Processing delays that result in taxpayers not being informed, within a reasonable time, that an amount was owing;
  • Errors in CRA material which led a taxpayer to file a return or make a payment based on incorrect information;
  • Incorrect information provided to a taxpayer by the CRA (usually in writing);
  • Errors in processing;
  • Delays in providing information, resulting in taxpayers not being able to meet their tax obligations in a timely manner; and
  • Undue delays in resolving an objection or an appeal, or in completing an audit.

Inability to pay or financial hardship

The CRA may, in circumstances where there is a confirmed inability to pay amounts owing, consider waiving or cancelling interest in whole or in part to enable taxpayers to pay their account. For example, this could occur when:

  • A collection has been suspended because of an inability to pay caused by the loss of employment and the taxpayer is experiencing financial hardship;
  • A taxpayer is unable to conclude a payment arrangement because the interest charges represent a significant portion of the payments; or
  • Payment of the accumulated interest would cause a prolonged inability to provide basic necessities (financial hardship) such as food, medical help, transportation, or shelter; consideration may be given to cancelling all or part of the total accumulated interest.

Consideration would not generally be given to cancelling a penalty based on an inability to pay or financial hardship unless an extraordinary circumstance prevented compliance, or an exceptional situation existed. For example, when a business is experiencing extreme financial difficulty and enforcement of such penalties would jeopardize the continuity of its operations, the jobs of the employees, and the welfare of the community as a whole, consideration may be given to providing relief of the penalties.

Other circumstances

The CRA may also grant relief if a taxpayer’s circumstances do not fall within the situations described above.

The CRA expects these guidelines to be used when applying for relief and that the requests are made within the deadlines for requesting relief, which is limited to any period that ended within 10 years before the calendar year in which a request is submitted or an income tax return is filed.   The 10-year limitation period rolls forward every January 1st.

If filed using the correct form, with sufficient supporting documentation, a response from the Taxpayer Relief Program can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years due to the amount of requests.  In order to ensure that you are making the best claim possible, you really should engage the services of a professional, as they would be able to assess whether or not your request is sufficient, and they would ensure that you meet all the other conditions which must be in place for the CRA to review and consider your application.

At the end of the day, if you have a reasonable chance of being successful under this program, the investment made to have it written, reviewed or monitored by an expert is a worthwhile expenditure.

Now let’s have a look at some common myths around this program which are floating around the Internet.

Myths

Myth: That the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief program is a one time program and that you had better take your best shot the time you decide to apply.

Reality: Not true,  This program is available to all Canadians who have been charged penalties and / or interest and as such, they have the right to ask for relief each and every time it is warranted.  The Taxpayer Relief Group do not maintain collection inventories and as such they review each case on the merit of its submission without any influence from the permanent collections diary or the collector assigned to the case.

Myth: That the CRA’s Taxpayer Relief Program is used in order for the CRA and a taxpayer to negotiate a deal which would resolve the taxpayer’s debt issue by settling the debt and accepting less than the actual amount owed to them.

Reality: Never, ever, ever!  The CRA does NOT settle debts outside of bankruptcy or a proposal, and they certainly do not use the taxpayer relief program for this purpose.  As a matter of fact, I can speak of a first hand experience where a collector used the word “settle” in the permanent collection diary of a corporation which had paid a principle tax debt of $650,000, because they wanted to fight the $775,000 in penalties and interest through Taxpayer Relief.  The CRA sent back the $650,000 and re-opened negotiation with the corporation because they did not want to set the precedent of settling tax debts through the Taxpayer Relief Program.

Myth: I cannot afford to pay my taxes, so I am not going to file my tax return, and then when I have a debt, I can ask for relief because I had no money?

Reality:  Failure to file a tax return is a criminal offence which can result in prosecution, so you should always file, and be clear to the CRA upfront that money is tight.  But before an application is made to the Taxpayer Relief Program, all outstanding returns must be filed up to date, and all installments must be accounted for.  Otherwise, the application is set aside until everything is current.

Myth: Having a disability or illness from birth qualifies me for Taxpayer Relief.

Reality: Probably not.  If you have managed to conduct your affairs for a period of time without any tax issues, but then something happens which cases the accumulation of penalties and interest, you cannot use your disability or illness when applying for relief, unless something happened during the period in which the penalties and / or interest were applied as a result of a worsening of your disability / illness.  In that case, you would need to substantiate this with supporting letters from your doctors and specialists.  

Myth:  I met with someone who is going to write a letter to the CRA asking for relief and they have sent me the letter to review.  If I sign it, and they send it off, am I now being considered for relief?

Reality:  Not any more.   Years ago, taxpayers were able to send in letters to the fairness department which contained their reasons for asking for relief and some would include supporting documentation, while others would not.  However, since the CRA revamped the Taxpayer Relief Program, they require that the form RC4288 be included in the package or the claim will be rejected.

Myth:  I need to be pre-qualified for the CRA Taxpayer Relief Program.

Reality: No.  You can determine if you may qualify, or you can seek a professional to help you determine if you have grounds for relief, but there is no pre-qualification of this program.

Myth: If my claim is rejected, then I have to pay the penalties and interest.

Reality:  You should make arrangements to pay the penalties and interest in any case in order to stop the interest clock from ticking should the claim be denied – wherever possible, however, the Taxpayer Relief Program allows for a second-level review to be performed (usually with additional information provided) and there is an option for judicial review should the second level review be unfavourable.

 

So take some time to look around when you are considering an application under the Taxpayer Relief Program and make sure that if you engage someone you do so for the right reasons.

Member of Nova Scotia First Nation charged with evading $2.2 million in taxes

The Canada Revenue Agency have announced that they have charged a member of Nova Scotia’s Millbrook First Nation with evading $2.2 million in GST/HST.

The CRA charged Lisa L. Marshall who was the operator of the Traditional Trading Post, a convenience store, located on the Cole Harbour reserve of the Millbrook First Nation using the Excise Tax Act with wilfully evading or attempting to evade compliance with that Act.

The CRA alleges that between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2015, the store failed to collect or remit $2,284,144.72 in Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) related to the sale of tobacco products to non-Aboriginals.

The agency says people who fail to remit tax owing are liable not only for the full amount, but also to penalties and interest, and if convicted, the court can levy a fine of up to 200% of the tax evaded and also impose a prison term of up to 5 years.

The moral of the story here, is that if you are required to charge, collect and remit GST or HST, you should.  The CRA treats Trust Funds – money taken by registrants and held in trust until they are remitted to the Crown – very seriously, and those who misuse Trust Funds are dealt with swiftly and to the full extent of the law allowed to be used by the CRA.

 

CRA Hires New Chief Service Officer. (It wasn’t me, but it should have been me!)

On November 1st, 2018, the CRA announced that as a result of complaints from the public related to “significant service delays”, they have launched a national consultation tour and on this tour will be promoting the appointment of a new Chief Service Officer (CSO).

That position should have been mine, but they never asked, so instead of helping the masses while working at the CRA, I’ll have to continue helping Taxpayers as inTAXicating.

While noting the introduction of a “new suite of services … leading to real results for Canadians”, or a return to the service that the CRA used to give Taxpayers, the CRA is admitting that it has a long way to go in the eyes of Canadians when it comes to providing anything related to “Customer Service”.

In March of 2018, the CRA appointed its first CSO, Mireille Laroche who happens to be a bilingual career public servant with a background in and who previously worked at the Department of Finance.

So much for the CSO helping Taxpayers with Collections issues related to the CRA because for that to happen, the CSO would need actual time working in, you know, Collections.

That being said, the CSO be classified as an Assistant Commissioner of the Service, Innovation and Integration Branch, as well as Chief Data Officer.

The Minister of National Revenue, the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, has visited a number of remote locations over the past year to discuss service issues promising solutions, but none have come from the CRA.

Stated “improvements” coming from the CRA include; the opening of the Northern Service Centres in territorial capitals, an enhancement of the CRA’s digital services, and the implementation of a new call centre platform because the one they currently use doesn’t meet the needs of Canadians.

A CRA spokeperson stated that, “these service enhancements will address many of the frustrations Canadians have experienced when they interact with the CRA [and] while they will be of significant benefit to Canadians, they are really just the beginning of the CRA’s client-focused approach to service.”

To that statement, I disagree!  I think the public wants to be able to sit down with their Collections representative face-to-face and that the CRA’s insistence of moving collections files to these “hubs” has created additional confusion, unnecessary stress and assessment which would have been resolved in person previously.

In addition to launching both online and in-person public consultations, the CRA is holding a series of “design jams,” which, according to the CRA spokesperson, is “a collaborative brainstorming activity used to solve design problems. It is part of the ‘design thinking toolkit.’ Design jams produce prototypes, pitches, or proposals; it is the equivalent of a ‘hackathon’ but for designers. The focus is on stakeholder and participant empowerment. Rapid ideation is done with all stakeholders involved.”

Time will tell if there will be actual changes being made to the way the CRA interacts with Taxpayers, or if this is just another way for the Federal Liberal government to spend taxpayer money while touting all the “progress” that has been / will be made.

BC Tracking Condo Purchasers

Effective September 18th, 2018, the Ministry of Finance in the province of British Columbia (Canada) has introduced a new version of their property transfer tax return which asks for additional information which could be used by the Ministry of Finance, or the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to track condo flippers, or those individuals or businesses who purchase condos and rent them out.

The property tax transfer (PTT) return requires that individuals with a “significant interest” in a corporation or trust that acquires property must be identified, with some exceptions.

If, the purchase is made through a corporation or trust, this new legislation will require property developers to collect a database of pre-sale buyers and remit that list to the BC Government.

The change in the regulations have been implemented to reduce the opportunity for tax evasion and / or money laundering, which are believed to have contributed to the skyrocketing house prices in the province.

The New PTT Return will likely require information on all beneficiaries of certain trusts and corporate interest holders including their name, contact information, tax identifiers (SIN, ITN, BN), and citizenship.

The draft legislation titled the Land Owner Transparency Act is still in the consulting stage and the BC government has stated that the results of the consultations do not affect the new PTT return which came into effect September 17, 2018.

These changes pose real threats to the highly speculative pre-sale condo market in BC, and if successful, will likely be implemented in other large urban centres, such as Toronto, Montreal and then across the country.

In recent years, pre-sale buyers have made out like bandits, securing pre-sale contracts with no proof of funds, without having financing in place, or the ability to secure financing and in many cases these buyers have absolutely no intention of closing upon completion of the condo, instead, flipping the contract to other buyers at a profit, without paying the tax on the gain.

The CRA frowns on buyers who flip condo contracts once a profit has been realized and have cracked down on this process, albeit, not enough, and not just on those who have been taking part.  The CRA has also assessed buyers who have legitimately sold their units and who have met all of the requirements for ownership, however it’s much easier for the CRA to determine everyone is guilty than to have to pull the legitimate from the pile of illegitimate.

These contract flippers have been successful because there is no title registration through BC land titles which means the best that the CRA can do is take the developer to court in order to obtain the list of pre-sale buyers who have flipped their contract, or go to court and seek information through a Requirement for Information, but the CRA must have evidence to support their claim that buyers have flipped condo contracts without declaring the capital gain.

All in all, this is just another area where the CRA is tightening up regulations thanks to the BC Ministry of Finance, and we will soon see this process come to an end.  In the meantime, there will be a whole bunch of taxpayers who will be assessed by the CRA, and there will be a 50% Gross Negligence penalty attached to that assessment.

Taxpayers who have been assessed by the CRA and who have done nothing wrong, should contact inTAXicating Tax Services at info@intaxicating.ca, and discuss our strategy for assisting taxpayers.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Knows Who Cheats on their Taxes!

Are you on the Canada Revenue Agencies radar?  How about on the CRA’s Audit Radar?  Have you been “flagged”?

Have you ever wondered how the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) decides who to audit?  Are there red flags?  Or does the CRA know how you operate your business which makes you more or less likely to be audited?

Here is the answer that you might be looking for;

The CRA knows who Cheats on their Taxes!

Do you fit their profile?

Are you at risk?

First, some background.

While I was still working at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), we released the results of a study that was put together to profile what kind of person poses the most risk for the CRA’s collections and audit groups.

The CRA spent a lot of time going through the main accounts; personal tax, payroll, GST/HST, and Corporate Tax, and we looked at who filed on time, who filed late (and how late they filed), and who was regularly compliant, and who needed a follow up verification audit, and what the result of those audits were.

This study focused on Tax Compliance, specifically;

  • Percentage of Taxpayers who accurately reported income and expenses (95%)
  • Percentage of Taxpayers who file on time (93%)
  • Percentage of Taxpayers who made payments on time with their filing (91%).

When it comes to reporting compliance or honestly reporting all your income and/or expenses, this study found that males are more likely to underreport their tax owing than females.

The study also found that underreporting is highest among taxpayers aged 35 to 54 and lowest among taxpayers under 35.

Underreporting of tax was also lowest for taxpayers who are married and highest for those who are separated, with single taxpayers somewhere in between.

Not surprisingly, underreporting of tax is higher among taxpayers whose main source of income is either capital gains or self-employment income versus taxpayers whose main source of income is wages, where most of the tax is withheld at source by the employer.

So who is on the CRA’s radar?

The prime candidates for the CRA to audit, or perform a desk review of expenses, are the separated or divorced males between the ages of 35-54 years old.

Do you fall into that category?

If so, know that the CRA is keeping one eye on you and the other on what you report and when it is reported.

Contact us at inTAXicating, and let us help you ensure that you remain compliant, and ensure that you have the knowledge necessary to organize your records so that you can quickly and easily get through a CRA audit.

EXAMPLE:

Here is an example of a case where the CRA used the criteria identified earlier to quickly descend on a taxpayer who fell behind in his filing and remitting duties.

Case: Tax Cheat?  Or Disorganized Business Owner?

I was approached by a business owner who ran very loosely with his books and records.  He kept a box of receipts and while most of the business receipts made the box, many got lost along the way.  Additionally, this business owner charged business expenses on his personal credit card, and personal expenses on his business card.  He travelled quite a lot for work, and he posted a lot of content on social media, but he failed to keep a thorough and accurate log documenting his personal versus business travel.

Additionally, because he was always on the go, had no time to review the details of the tax side of his business.  He had money in his business bank account, then he knew he was earning money.  At year-end, he would bring his half-completed records and his shoebox to his accountant for the preparation of his returns.

In June he would receive a refund.

A series of events, however, changed his life forever.

  1. His accountant began to get busy
  2. As a result, he was late getting payroll figures, and was late making the payroll remittance
  3. Then the GST/HST numbers were delayed, so that filing was late
  4. His personal tax filings were delayed
  5. His business tax filing was delayed.
  6. His business made money.
  7. While all of this was going on – he continued to send his info to the CA, and pay the CA’s invoices.  He would get the odd notice from the CRA and send it to his accountant to “take care of”.

This is very typical and a common occurence.

What he didn’t know was that everything was not okay.

One day a CRA field officer showed up to discuss his non-compliance and to arrange a payroll audit because the company was 6-months behind on remittances.  There was also a balance owing to the CRA of over $35,000.

Shocked, he contacted his CA who said that she would look into it, that it was going to take some time and she felt the CRA was completely wrong.

Convinced that the accountant was right, the business owner went back to work, and the accountant was going to find the error and fix the problem.

Only problem that he didn’t know was that there was no “error”.  The balance owing to the CRA was legitimate.  By filing late over that 6-month period, the accountant had amassed a significant balance due to late filing penalties and the balance was jumping by leaps and bounds as a result of the 10% interest the CRA charges on outstanding balances (compounding daily).

Then one day he received a call from one of his main suppliers who was concenred because not only did he cheque bounce, but there was a CRA officer there earlier in the day asking questions.

He contacted his accountant.

She appeared stunned and said that she would call the CRA and fix it.

She was just buying time.

A week later, the garnishment was still on the account, interest was accruing, and the accountant was telling stories of the CRA being unfair, and mean, and not listening or returning calls.

Frustrated and panicked that he might have to close his business without a bank account, he contacted his CA and asked for his books and records.

She refused.  Realizing that this was the end of the relationship with her client, she told him that she had done a lot of work with the CRA and she demanded payment before she would give up his information.

He refused to pay – how could he?  He had no access to his bank account and the CRA had taken all of his funds.

In fact, it took him 8-months and a small claims court date for this process to resolve itself.  She took him to court for unpaid work, and thankfully, the judge was wise to this CA and her practices and awarded the client his books and records in return for payment of the work actually completed, not the entire invoice.

The damage was done.  The business was also close to being done.

The CRA doesn’t care about the reasons why someone becomes non-compliant – they look at the business, the owner, and then set their course to fix it.

The fact that this business owner fit the category did not help him at all, as the CRA quickly and aggressively went after every asset that he had, raised assessments for the missing payroll and GST/HST figures, and sent Requirements to Pay to his business bank account, contacted his receivables (clients) and quickly moved to raise director’s liability so they could go after his personal assets.

Conclusion

Running a business is difficult.

Running a business without a business bank account is also difficult.

Running a business without a bank account, after the CRA notified your clients that you owe considerable amounts of tax money is next to impossible.

What killed this business was a combination of bad accounting, bad advice, lies, deception and some really bad luck.

The reality is that many, many businesses and individuals have this experience on a daily basis.  It is next to impossible for the CRA to determine if the information being told to them is legitimate or a made up story – but when the owner of the business is a perfect fit for commiting tax fraud – the CRA takes notice.

Could this have been fixed?  Of course.

If you owe money to the CRA, or if you have fallen behind on compliance, or if you suspect that your tax advisor is giving you bad advice, contact us now.  At inTAXicating, we’ll look at the facts, and help you run your business while we work on solving the problem.

Visit our website @ www.intaxicating.ca.

Send us an email to: Info@intaxicating.ca

 

 

Former Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Auditor Not Guilty of Fraud

A former Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) auditor and his wife were found not guilty of fraud when a judge rules that the CRA failed to prove that the fraud was intentional.

This is significant, folks!

The original article can be found here;

https://www.surreynowleader.com/news/former-canada-revenue-agency-auditing-employee-and-wife-found-not-guilty-of-tax-evasion/

What I truly hope is that this ruling provides the CRA with a much clearer understanding that there are actually some Taxpayers and businesses (and even former employees) who might not fully understand the CRA’s rules and regulations and their application, and that there exists a chance that people make mistakes.

I’m not saying in this case that there was a mistake – and I don;t believe that the judge was saying that either, but what was very clear from this ruling is that the for the CRA to win a case they need proof and facts.

The CRA obviously will be appealing this decision.

My experience in the CRA has afforded me this insight which I happily pass along to each of you who read this…  It’s okay to make mistakes.  We all do.  The CRA does not expect each and every Canadian Taxpayer to be tax experts, but where the CRA has zero tolerance is where Taxpayers try to circumvent the rules and do so knowingly.  At that point, you can’t claim you didn’t know the rules.  You’ll be no mercy from the Crown at that point in time.

As well, there are many, many, many opportunities to resolve the tax issues before having to bear the expenses of going to tax court!  This ruling was the first of it’s kind, and considering how many people want to sue the CRA or take the CRA to court, it makes you wonder who is advising them, and who is paying their bills!

To understand where you stand and what your options are, you can start by contacting inTAXicating Tax Services, at http://www.intaxicating.ca, and start dealing with you tax issues with the facts.

info@intaxicating.ca