The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa is shown on November 4, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

CRA program to help poor file taxes yields noticeable bump in people helped

Extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics to operate year-round

OTTAWA — A federal program designed to help low-income Canadians file their taxes has boosted the number of returns it’s handled in the year since the government increased its funding.

The extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics run by more than 3,000 groups to operate year-round.

Now, the agency is looking to improve the program to help more low-income Canadians qualify for supports administered through the tax system, including the Canada Child Benefit that goes up in value this weekend.

Figures provided by the Canada Revenue Agency show a six-per-cent increase in the number of tax returns filed through the program this year compared to last year.

In raw numbers, the CRA says more than 835,000 returns were filed by people who are homeless, Indigenous, newcomers, seniors or disabled.

The boost is double those seen in previous years, before the Liberals increased annual spending on the “community volunteer income-tax program” to $13 million in the 2018 budget.

“There’s not another program” like it in the CRA, says program co-ordinator Julie Gagnon. “It’s a different program and we get to see the direct impact that we have on lifting people out of poverty.”

In 2018, the CRA says it paid out $1.7 billion in refunds and benefits — an increase from the $1.5 billion in 2017 — to 703,400 people who filed 786,600 returns through the program. (Some people filed returns for more than one year.)

The dollar value for this year isn’t available yet, but it’s not a given that the figure will go up.

“We would hope or expect that some of them may not return in the following year,” Gagnon says. “The reasons could be varied by why they wouldn’t return. The next year, hopefully they’re in a better financial situation and they might be able to go pay somebody to do it where they weren’t able to do it themselves.”

READ MORE: Police warning of CRA scam at tax time

Long-term plans aim to help more than one million people through the program by 2023 — an increase of more than 40 per cent from the 741,400 people helped this year.

To get there, the CRA expanded on a unique research project it ran in 2017. Agency researchers conducted in-depth interviews with people at volunteer tax clinics or in shelters to identify behaviour patterns that could help the government improve programs for and outreach to low-income and marginalized populations.

The result was the increase in annual spending to $13 million, the second time the Liberals had expanded the program since 2015, allowing the 48-year-old program to operate year-round.

Gagnon says the CRA used the extra funding to increase staffing across the country to provide more face-to-face training for organizations and volunteers.

She says the agency was also able to provide tax-filing software earlier for groups to use and set up a dedicated line for volunteers to call with questions so they wouldn’t have to wait in a general queue.

This year, 3,500 organizations took part in the program, along with 19,500 volunteers — both increases from 2018.

Federal workers have also used the extra money to reach out to Indigenous communities, many of which are in remote locations, to get more people receiving benefits to which they’re entitled. Between April 2018 and March 2019, workers at the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada visited 669 Indigenous communities, and plan to visit and return to as many this year.

Gagnon says the agency plans to rely on the results of a survey late last year of all organizations and volunteers to shape the future of the program. The results are expected to be made public in the coming weeks.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greedy family’s maid overcomes them all in Surrey Little Theatre’s latest play

‘The Late Christopher Bean’ is staged at Clayton-area theatre for a month starting Jan. 23

Fire truck, police car hit in chain of crashes on Hwy. 99 in South Surrey

‘People weren’t paying attention,’ says Surrey assistant fire chief

Two-vehicle crash leads to argument in South Surrey

Police investigating after one driver left the scene

Final Four set at Surrey RCMP Classic, where a new champ will be crowned

Guildford Park beats Semiahmoo, ending Totems’ three-year championship run

City of Surrey spends $1.2M on winter maintenance – so far

Total budget of $3.7M; 7,000 tonnes of salt used

Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Should winter tires be mandatory in the Lower Mainland?

ICBC dial-a-claims go up as winter storm takes toll

Canada Post driver in hospital after ice smashes windshield at Massey Tunnel

Incident happened on Richmond side of the Massey Tunnel

Abbotsford bank ATM robbery thwarted by woman standing her ground

Police arrest alleged known robber running down South Fraser wearing balaclava

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

Dad of missing Abbotsford woman charged after allegedly exposing himself in park

Barry Shpeley charged with sexual assault and assault

Most Read