Helping businesses and individuals in unexpected ways

Many things changed when people started working from home in the pandemic – and some of the changes were more unexpected than others. Steve, a Liaison Officer (LO) with the CRA, found himself working from home in the same room as his cockatiel. Ohanna, whose name means “family” and who has been a part of Steve’s household since 2015, found joy in the new arrangement.

“He sings and goes crazy sometimes when I’m on calls with clients,” Steve laughs. “These guys can live for 25 years – we’re going to have to get him a girlfriend, and especially if I’m not home all the time!”

Steve, who has been with the CRA for 15 years, is currently an LO out of the Laval office in Western Quebec. He’s spent his career helping taxpayers, both in CRA call centres and with the LO service, even helping to develop the service in its beginning.

The LO service supports new small businesses and self-employed individuals by helping them to accurately file their returns for income tax, as well as GST/HST. They also help business owners avoid and correct the most common errors. Through this program, officers provide tools, information, and support to help businesses manage their tax matters correctly from the start.

Enter Covid-19 and LO officers started providing a different kind of service. Instead of responding to enquiries, they started calling individuals who had filed self employed income in the past few years to inform them of the new subsidies and to ask if they had any questions.

“Everything was new and the details were changing constantly – and some of these details were the difference between a business being able to stay open and someone being able to feed their kids,” says Steve. “We had to stay current so that we could pass this information on.”

In the beginning, Steve participated in the webinars that the CRA provided to businesses to explain the new measures. As time went on, he took lists he received and made calls to businesses to see if they needed help. Sometimes he provided help in unexpected ways.

“You never knew what you would hear,” says Steve. “One business owner in Montreal told me he had to close because he had aggressive cancer. He was struggling financially and I asked about the disability tax credit – turned out he’d never heard of it. I helped him figure out that he could apply and get thousands of dollars back. Times like that – maybe I couldn’t help his business but there were other ways to help.”

These different ways of helping have provided Steve with a silver lining in the events of the past two years.

“Working from home, I can assist people from all over the country,” says Steve. “I assist a lot in Western Canada with clients who sometimes struggle to find French service in regions that are predominantly English-speaking. I find it pretty cool that I can assist someone in the Yukon and then, without getting on a plane, work with someone else thousands of miles away.”

No matter where they’re calling from, Steve says the issues and questions are similar – but the context the questions come in “means everything”.

“It might be the same information but the context changes everything,” he says. “For example, take depreciation of assets. For a barber – they might be talking hair clippers and chairs and mirrors. But for a farmer – a new silo or harvester can be half a million bucks… so these clients have very different realities. One part of this job that I love is the probing questions on subjects that are the ‘same’ but that vary drastically.

“It’s definitely one of the cooler parts of this job. The variety of clientele that you get to help and how much of a difference you can make when you provide that help.”

This story is appearing as part of a series to promote the tax filing deadline for self-employed individuals (and their spouses) on June 15, 2022. Self-employed individuals continue to work hard to recover from the effects of the pandemic. The CRA has tools to help them meet their tax obligations, including services like the Liaison Officer (LO) service, which the CRA offers at no cost to owners of small businesses and self-employed individuals to help them understand their tax obligations.

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