Changes to the CRA’s RC59 Business Authorization Form

The Canada Revenue Agency has announced to tax preparers and representatives that if they wish to have online access to a business client’s tax information after May 15, 2017 they will have to complete the authorization request in the Represent a Client section on the CRA web site.

In order to do this, tax representatives have to log into Represent a Client and select “Review and update” from the Welcome page.  They then select “Authorization request” at the bottom of the “Manage clients” tab and follow the instructions.

Once the request is complete, tax representatives will need to print the signature page for their client to sign. Once it is signed, a scanned copy of the document may be sent to the CRA using its submit documents feature.

Using this method will allow tax professionals to gain access to their business clients’ information in five days or less instead of the 15 days it currently takes with form RC59.

If, however, you still prefer your current process, you can still use form RC59 to request access to your business clients’ information by telephone or mail.

And if you need to have authorization in less that 5 days, you should reach out to us here at inTAXicating, because with almost 11-years’ experience working in the CRA’s Collections department, we know how to get that authorization in the hands of someone in minutes!

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Taxpayers Ombudsperson to Examine CRA Legal Warning Process

The Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson, Sherra Profit has announced that the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson (OTO) will be undertaking an examination into the systemic issue of the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA’s) practices regarding providing legal warnings to taxpayers when collecting unpaid taxes.

Obviously, the OTO have received many complaints alleging that staff at the CRA have been taking legal actions – freezing and seizing funds from bank accounts, garnishing wages, taking refunds – without notifying taxpayers first, or without working to make a payment arrangement first.

Oh oh.

Apparently, the purpose of this exercise is to allow for the Ombudsperson to identify the current process the CRA uses in order to take legal actions, specifically to see if the notice being given is “sufficient”.

Additionally, there will also be a review of whether the CRA clearly identifies their entire collection process on their website.

Is it clear enough for the average Taxpayer to understand not to carry a balance with the CRA?

After the examination, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson will make her findings public in a report.

For those of you not familiar with the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson (OTO), they “work to enhance the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) accountability in its service to, and treatment of, taxpayers through independent and impartial reviews of service-related complaints and systemic issues”.

The website can be found here; https://www.canada.ca/en/taxpayers-ombudsman.html

The OTO wants to initiate systemic examinations when complaints or questions are raised about a service issue that may impact a large number of taxpayers or a segment of the population, in order to keep on top of the pulse of Taxation and the CRA here in Canada.

Recommendations arising from these examinations are aimed at improving the service provided to taxpayers by the CRA.

Quotes
“While the CRA’s collections practices and collections officers’ behaviours are some of the most common complaints received in my office, we have received more specific complaints about the legal warnings aspect.  CRA collections officers generally try to work out an acceptable payment arrangement that will allow taxpayers to avoid undue financial hardship. Taxpayers who contacted my office indicated they were taken by surprise, and said they have faced financial hardship and stress because of the lack of notice prior to CRA taking legal action.”

Sherra Profit
Taxpayers’ Ombudsman

Well…

Let me tell you, Office of the Ombudsperson, that there are 3 important pieces to the puzzle that you do not know about or have overlooked;

  1. The issuance of the Notice of Assessment (NOA) comes with legal warning built right into the notice.  As the CRA’s collectors will tell you over and over again, the CRA is not a bank and thus, by issuing the NOA the CRA is demanding payment in full.  If, for whatever reason, a taxpayer cannot make payment in full, they are expected to contact the CRA and let them know.
  2. Recent attempts by the CRA to lower their workloads resulted in the creation of New Intake inventories where by the collectors were advised and trained to take immediate legal action against a taxpayer once the 90 days grace period granted upon the issuing of a Notice of Assessment has passed.  Day 91 = legal action.
  3. Trust accounts, situations where trust funds are due to the CRA as due right away and no collection restriction applies, ie/ jeopardy.

The answer here might include spelling out information on the CRA website a touch more clearly, and it should include having it in a few more places, maybe flashing and more noticeable because to educate and inform each and every Canadian Taxpayer all the time so everyone knows, just is not feasible.

Personal experience working at the CRA has afforded me a much different view of the CRA’s legal warning procedures and when I compare how I handled files to how others did, I get it… There are issues.

I cannot tell you the number of times I gave verbal legal warning, followed that up with written legal warning, then followed that up with another call and then upon freezing a bank account, got that call of surprise and shock.

However, I do know of a few others who froze bank accounts and instead of sending the legal document to freeze the account to the bank and the Taxpayer on the same day, held on to the Taxpayer’s copy for an extra day or 2 in order to prevent the Taxpayer from getting the notice first and emptying his / her bank account.

It’s not as clear as one might want it to be…

OTO… You’re going to be so disappointed with what you find, but you need to understand before you try to make the CRA A kindler and gentler place that everything is already in place, policy and procedurally, to do just that.

It could just be that people who are not informed do not feel they have a person or place to ask questions without fear of reprisal!

 

Is the CRA Looking After Your Best Interest? Theirs? Or No Ones???

I have always felt that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) does an adequate job at what they are mandated to do, and that is to collect tax revenue and tax information from taxpayers while using their debt management (collections) division to collect from the unwilling or pre-occupied.

From the inside you are trained to understand that those who do not file or pay are “debtors” and that actions should be taken to bring these debtors into compliance right away.

You are also trained that if you can collect from – or force into bankruptcy – these individuals and corporations, that you are doing them a service but forcing them to make decisions that they are unwilling to make or unable to make.

Those of us who have worked in the “real world” understand that behind the account numbers and names there are real people who are trying to run real businesses and who find taxation either complicated or overbearing and cannot comply with the rules and regulations.

Since failure to comply can result in criminal actions, I believe that the tax rules are complicated and with little forgiveness on the party of the government, one small mistake can shut a business down, or result in significant monetary penalties.

The most frustrating part, I find, is trying to explain to the CRA that their actions – while justified internally – have serious implications on more than a business or a person.

Take for example one of my clients;

I spent the last week in serious discussions with just about everyone at the Winnipeg Tax Services Office, trying to convince then that if they keep a garnishment on a corporate bank account that they will shut down this corporation.

The corporation’s issue, which the collector, team leader, technical advisor, section manager and director felt justified these actions?

They were in collections for 2-years. They had a trust exam and fell behind.

GASP.

I mentioned the accounts I am resolving for them right now involving people and corporations in collections for 15-20 years. 2-years is a drop in the bucket.

I also let them know of the tragic circumstances surrounding this corporation involving a death, an illness and a mass exodus of employees which left one director now trying to keep his corporation alive. That was until the CRA placed the garnishment and wanted to shut down the corporation.

So the collector – new – and the technical advisor – new – find words to justify their actions and the director did not return my calls or letters (yet, apparently) did not feel compelled enough to get back to me and intervene.

The CRA’s solution instead of putting 3 employees out of jobs, and a family man without income to support his young family was to drag out the process and ask for a payment arrangement on a corporation with no income… From their actions.

So whose interests are the CRA looking after?

Theirs? Nope. By not allowing the corporation to operate and earn income they are going to lose out on revenue to pay their liability. When they do open up the account, the corporation will need to pay back rent, phones, internet, and buy stock before either paying themselves or the CRA.

Are they looking after the corporations interests? Heck no! By not being able to operate and by stringing along the director, this corporation is bleeding a slow death. Customers are losing faith, employees are quitting and with no money, the corporation cannot afford to fight any more.

So it is very clear at this point that the CRA is looking after no one’s interests. Their actions are destructive and they are too far from the real world to understand that in this case no action is the very best action.

Frustrating?

Absolutely.

So after one whole week of trying to talk sense into the CRA, I am hopeful that the garnishment comes off the account today. The CRA will get a plan on how this corporation plans to recover from a poorly executed collection actions which will get them one payment and nothing for at least a month.

The end game here will benefit everyone now that I am involved, but my job would be so much easier if the CRA understood that they need to listen to the experts and let the account resolve itself.

I would be so much father ahead than we are now and the poor director would have slept at least one night in the past month instead of trying to figure out why the CRA is trying to shut them down.

I’m looking out for the corporation’s best interests!

Someone has to!

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 instalments 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?

Answer:  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.