Canada’s Tax Agency Limits Audits and Debt Collection to Focus on COVID-19 Help

Canada’s tax agency limits audits and debt collection, and equips thousands of its employees with remote access technology, reinventing itself in real time as it prepares for a tidal wave of coronavirus-related claims.

Like their fellow citizens, workers at the Canada Revenue Agency have followed the advice of public health professionals to avoid crowds and stay home as much as possible. The agency’s extensive home-working experience comes as workers are inundated with requests on the government’s COVID-19 relief programs.

Far from it, many CRA employees have had to work from home and log into government systems at the same time before, said Marc Brière, national president of the Union of Taxation Employees. At the same time, the agency is putting in place new systems to implement the additional payments, he said, which adds to the complexity.

“The CRA has over 40,000 employees – the system has not been designed so far to have 30,000 people working from home,” Brière said. “Every day, more and more people connect remotely. … I know they target as many employees as you can imagine.

As it scrambles to find creative ways to juggle the workload, the CRA is also limiting other work it usually undertakes, withholding new debt collection “until further notice” and limiting the amount of debt collection. interaction of the audit with taxpayers in “high risk and exceptional cases,” she said. in a statement on its website.

“The systems weren’t designed for this kind of stress”

Shared Services Canada, the federal government’s IT department, has confirmed National Observer he helped the CRA and other organizations connect employees to perform remote access from their homes so they can safely perform government work during the pandemic while “keeping up with a demand unprecedented “.

The CRA is suspending audits and equipping thousands of its employees with remote access technology, as it braces for a tidal wave of coronavirus benefit claims.

This process often involves new computers, telephone equipment or Internet services, Briere said. Some workers were already configured for remote access, but many had not yet been configured. “It’s a remote access system. There is a virtual connection, so they are working to improve the system and increase the bandwidth, ”he said.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau told the Senate on Wednesday that the government faces a technical challenge in securing some of the benefits promised by Canadians as quickly as possible.

“Clearly it’s unheard of. Obviously the systems weren’t designed for that kind of stress and strain,” Morneau said. At another point, he said : “No one has ever considered using systems in this way.”

For two of the benefits in particular – increases in the GST tax credit and the Canada Child Benefit – the earliest possible for them was May, Morneau told Conservative Senator Larry Smith.

Not that the government didn’t want them out sooner, Morneau said. It was just that “the capacity is not there to actually deliver in that time frame.”

“I hear people say, ‘Hey, it’s time for us to shine’

The issue of prompt processing of benefits caught the attention of the NDP, which pushed the government to send “direct aid” to Canadians in the form of a check for each adult and other adjustments.

“There is going to be a cascading effect on the lack of tax filing that is going to occur and on the ability of residents to access the additional benefits of their original tax return,” said Matthew Green, NDP spokesperson for the tax return. national revenues and public services, in an interview.

One of the changes made by the government was to consolidate two previously announced benefits into the combined Canadian Emergency Benefit. Morneau said the decision was made within a week, when the government realized it was a faster way to deliver.

Briere, whose union represents more than 26,000 CRA workers who deal with everything from debt management to enforcement, auditing and technology, said its members expected to “Millions of calls”.

But the prioritization and work-from-home efforts mean the agency will have enough staff, he said.

“We should be able to deliver. It’s going to be a lot of work, we might have to work overtime, I don’t know … but people seem proud to be able to say: ‘We’re going to be there and deliver’. noted.

“My members seem very proud of the work they normally do, but I hear people say, ‘Hey, it’s time for us to shine. Let’s go, let’s do it. That’s the feeling in our ranks right now.

Nearly a million people have filed for employment insurance in the last week alone, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed on Wednesday.

NDP MP wants automatic deposit

The CRA is not the only government agency to undergo such a transformation. On Thursday, the government closed Service Canada in-person centers, saying its employees “will be dedicated to serving Canadians by phone.”

The news follows tweets from Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the Canadian Union of Employment and Immigration, saying members had been concerning for their safety.

Green said the current situation demonstrates the need for the CRA to switch to automatic filing – or in other words, to drop the requirement for Canadians to file income tax returns.

The agency already automatically receives details of the employment and investment income of many Canadians. But there is still a need for people or organizations to complete and send the declaration.

It makes it harder to get benefits when people can’t file for a variety of reasons, Green said. “We know that these delays and postponements are going to have an aggravated impact on the ability of people to process their GST (tax credit),” he said.

Esther L. Steinbach

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