Community Volunteer Income Tax Program 2018 Comprehensive End-of-Season Survey Findings

In 2018, the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (known as the Income Tax Assistance – Volunteer Program in Quebec) did its first-ever, end-of-season survey for all participating organization coordinators and volunteers. The purpose of the survey was to gain insights into the attitudes and experiences of participating organizations and volunteers in order to identify any gaps in support as well as opportunities to improve the program.

The online survey, available in English and French, was open from May 24 to June 4, 2018. A total of 4,055 individuals, representing all provinces and territories, responded to the survey for a response rate of nearly 22%.

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Figure 1 – Distribution of survey respondents per region in Canada
Figure 1 - Image description

Image of a map of Canada divided by province and territory to display the distribution of survey respondents per CRA region in Canada. There are five regions filled in with different colours: Pacific is green, Prairies is orange, Ontario is pink, Quebec is blue, and Atlantic is purple.

19% of respondents are from the Pacific region, which includes Yukon and British Columbia. 16% of respondents are from the Prairiers region, which includes Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. 33% of respondents are from the Ontario region, which includes Nunavut and Ontario. 24% of respondents are from the Quebec region. 7% of respondents are from the Atlantic region, which includes Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

Before this survey, the program did internal research that drew on the views of volunteers and internal stakeholders, in addition to a literature review related to tax filing barriers and vulnerable populations. Furthermore, the program routinely receives feedback on issues, challenges, and positive experiences from the field. In some instances, the survey findings align with the information in the above-mentioned sources. This survey report:

Key findings

Key findings from the survey are outlined below. In general, although there is room for improvement, the responses show that participants feel supported, valued, and satisfied with their participation in the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP).

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Figure 2 – Respondents often answered favourably when asked about their attitudes regarding the CVITP.
Figure 2 - Image description

Graphic displaying four grey rectangles with a navy bubble attached to each top left corner. The rectangles include a description of the result, while the bubble includes the percentage of respondents who gave that answer. Each set describes findings from the 2018 survey:

  • 98% said they felt they made a positive difference when volunteering with the program
  • 95% reported enjoying filling out income tax returns for the program
  • 95% feel like they are able to complete what is asked fo them by the program
  • 81% are happy with the amount of support they receive from the CRA

Challenges with components of the CVITP

Respondents identified some challenges with components of the CVITP. Although respondents indicated high levels of satisfaction with the program in general, the survey asked respondents to identify gaps and flag areas for improvement. A significant minority of respondents indicated that nothing about the program frustrated them (41%). However, the remainder (59%) identified a number of challenges with components of the program. In addition to the survey options, some respondents chose “other” as a response to this question and mentioned that issues with clients were a challenge (for example, having to turn clients away due to clinic capacity issues, clients not showing up or not being fully prepared, or conflict with clients). The table below lists the identified challenges reported by these respondents.

Figure 3 – Are there things about the CVITP that frustrate you? If so, select a maximum of three responses that apply. (3,821 respondents)
Figure 3 - Image description

Image of a bar graph about respondents’ challenges of the CVITP. The title is bolded and center-aligned above the bar graph. The bars are horizontal and orange, with data callouts at the end indicating the response percentage rate. The vertical axis lists all the options respondents had when selecting their main frustrations.

Response rates appear in the following order:

  • Training: 20%
  • The registration process: 19%
  • The CVITP software: 13%
  • Lack of advertising: 12%
  • Communications from the CRA: 9%
  • Lack of support from the CRA: 7%
  • The dedicated help line: 6%
  • Lack of appreciation: 6%
  • Other: 15%

1. In-person training and enhanced training materials

Respondents want more in-person training and enhanced training materials. Although training is listed as the most common challenge, 82% of respondents felt prepared when first completing income tax returns in 2018. Still, there is room for improvement for CVITP training (for details, see I, under Opportunities for improvement).

Responses about training that emerged from the survey suggest that current training materials are not fully meeting respondents’ needs: Training desires focused on improving the quality of current training, rather than creating new materials. Overall, survey respondents appeared to be satisfied with the training modules that exist, but responses to some questions provide insights into where the CVITP can make improvements.

Both in previous feedback and in the 2018 survey, training came up as a top challenge for organizations and volunteers. Survey responses about specific training aspects shed more light on where the program can focus efforts to develop its training.

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Figure 4 – For me, attending in-person training is important. (3,931 respondents)
Figure 4 - Image description

Illustration of a smiling man with grey hair, wearing a red shirt. Blue text box with white text that reads: “60% of respondents agree that attentind in-person training is important.”

More than half of respondents indicated that attending in-person training is important. The funding increase for the CVITP announced in Budget 2018 has helped raise the number of local CVITP co-ordinators across the country, which will result in more availability for in-person training and support.

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Figure 5 – What additions to training would you be interested in? Select all that apply. (3,689 respondents)
Figure 5 - Image description

Image of a bar graph about respondents’ Interest in additions to training. The title is bolded and center-aligned above the bar graph. The bars are horizontal and orange, with data callouts at the end indicating the response percentage rate. The vertical axis lists all the options respondents had when selecting additions to training.

Response rates appear in the following order:

  • More information on what’s changed from last year: 73%
  • More information on specific populations: 46%
  • More scenarios: 30%
  • More guidance on how to use the software: 25%
  • Interactive modules: 25%
  • More training on working with vulnerable groups: 21%
  • More detailed information about how to fill out a tax return: 20%
  • Other: 13%

To identify other gaps in CVITP training, the survey also sought input from respondents on areas that would improve their skills when helping clients. The most frequently selected additions to training were:

This question provided insights into opportunities where the CVITP can improve existing services. In light of this feedback, the program made some necessary enhancements and clarifications for the 2019 tax filing season:

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Figure 6 – Should the CVITP provide more specific training on designated groups? If so, select all that apply. (3,096 respondents)
Figure 6 - Image description

Image of a bar graph about respondents’ Interest in more specific training on designated groups. The title is bolded and center-aligned above the bar graph. The bars are horizontal and orange, with data callouts at the end indicating the response percentage rate. The vertical axis lists all the options respondents had when selecting their answers.

Response rates appear in the following order:

  • Newcomers: 49%
  • People with disabilities: 42%
  • Seniors: 34%
  • Indigenous people: 25%
  • People who are house-insecure/homeless: 24%
  • Students/youth: 24%
  • Single parents: 20%
  • People who are house-bound: 18%
  • Doesn’t want more specific training: 17%
  • Another specific population: 6%

In addition to training support, the survey asked respondents whether they were interested in receiving more training materials that explain the unique tax situations of various client groups. The top three groups already have training focused on their situations, so the CVITP updated some existing training profiles (tax preparation scenarios) to include more specific tax information and refined the instructions to make the training on the related situations clearer.

2. The registration process

The registration process was the second most common challenge, although most respondents (89%) indicated they were satisfied with the process. Given that the registration process is the first point of contact with the CVITP for volunteers and organization coordinators, the CRA is examining ways that the process can be improved. The registration process should be user-friendly and not present a barrier in attracting organizations and volunteers to participate in the program.

 

When survey respondents were asked how they felt about registration, most respondents said they were satisfied, and most (79%) said they received their EFILE number within the allotted 30 days. 

Registration is one part of the CVITP that has received a lot of feedback from the field, and previous internal research suggested that the registration process needed improvement. Most notably, however, the 2018 survey identified that registration was not as much of a pain point as first thought. Still, the CRA is examining ways of improving registration.

3. Tax filing software and its delivery

The CVITP provides tax filing software to volunteers to help them complete income tax returns for their clients. The survey revealed that most respondents (89%) used CVITP software, and 89% indicated they liked the software.

Each year, CVITP coordinators must release software license keys to organizations so that their volunteers can electronically file income tax returns. In response to previous feedback, the CVITP released the software license keys earlier for the 2018 tax filing season than in previous years. This enabled volunteers to familiarize themselves with the tax software in advance and to support organizations that opened their clinics early in the season. 

The CVITP will release the licence keys as early as possible each year.

4. Tax clinic promotion and advertisement

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) promotes and advertises the program at large, and organizations promote their individual tax clinics. Just 58% of respondents said they think clinics are well advertised in their area, indicating they felt there was a lack of awareness around their tax clinics (for details, see II, under Opportunities for improvement).

Figure 11 - Clinics are well advertised
  Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree
  58 22 21

For organizations wanting to promote their clinic, the CRA will post their information on the CVITP’s find a tax clinic web page, but that is the only place where the CRA shares specific information for organizations. Due to the agency’s arms’ length relationship with organizations, it cannot directly endorse any organization or tax clinic, for example, on social media platforms or in bus ads.

5. Resources to operate free tax clinics

Respondents want more resources to operate free tax clinics. The CVITP provides guidance and support, tax filing software, a dedicated help line, training, and surplus computer donations to organizations and volunteers. Organizations often add to this support and pay for additional expenses related to printing, computers/laptops, memory sticks, and the Internet to provide tax preparation services free of charge to vulnerable clients. To prioritize resource needs, organization coordinators were asked to indicate their top three resource needs that they want provided by the CVITP to better support their clinics. The top three resource needs indicated were:

For the 2019 tax filing season, a limited number of printers were made available to organizations for their tax clinics, much like the CVITP’s computer donation program. Response rates for USB sticks and ink provide direction for the CVITP to explore in the future.

6. Funding sources to host free CVITP tax clinics

Most organizations do not receive funding to host or operate free CVITP tax clinics. In fact, a minority of organization coordinators reported that they received funding from internalFootnote 2  and/or externalFootnote 3  sources to host the clinics. Respondents were then asked whether a list of funding sources (for example, federal grants, bursaries) would be helpful for their organization, to which 90% agreed.

The above response is consistent with previous findings, which identified that the CVITP should increase support for organizations to operate clinics by supplying them with a list of external grants or funding sources. Organizations could use the list as a guide for sources of funding to decrease the costs of running the free clinics. Since the CRA cannot directly fund tax clinics, the CVITP is exploring ways to tell organizations about funding sources.

7. The dedicated help line

Most respondents were satisfied with the dedicated telephone help line. This line supports CVITP volunteers when they have tax-related questions or need to get personal information that a client is missing.

Most respondents were satisfied with the dedicated help line, and many did not report any issues. That said, 15% of respondents indicated having issues with the help line. Internal research and input from the field have reported that these issues are strongly felt, because they could potentially delay clients from filing and accessing benefits.

These positive results may reflect recent changes to the dedicated help line. The CVITP worked with the dedicated help line team to develop authentication questions that were easier for clients to answer, and to make sure that the line was available year-round, which enhanced accessibility for vulnerable clients.

The CVITP is committed to continue working with internal stakeholders to make sure the dedicated help line remains a positive experience for volunteers and clients of the CVITP.

8. Auto-fill my return

Respondents’ experiences with the Auto-fill my return service were mixed. Auto-fill my return is a secure service that provides a fast way to automatically fill in parts of a taxpayer’s return with information that the CRA has available at the time of filing. Directly importing information from the CRA into the tax filing software helps to reduce errors, ensuring more accurate returns and assessments. The Auto-fill my return service is available within the tax filing software provided by the CVITP, and the service has been adapted for use by program volunteers.

To test the Auto-fill my return service for the CVITP, it was offered to a small number of volunteers for the 2018 tax filing season. When respondents were asked whether or not they used the service, 11%Footnote 4  indicated they did, while another 5% indicated they were unsuccessful when they tried to use the service. Furthermore, only 53% of those who used it said they were satisfied with their experience.

Figure 14 - Satisfied with Auto-fill my return
  Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree
Default 53 14 33

For the 2019 tax filing season, the Auto-fill my return service has been expanded as an optional feature for all volunteers. Information on their experience with the service will be available in the next end-of-season survey.

Desired changes to enhance the CVITP

Respondents shared ideas about changes to enhance the program. When asked, some respondents (18%) indicated that they would not change anything about the CVITP. However, most respondents wanted to change at least one part of the program. The two most frequently selected answers ("supporting volunteers to complete some self-employed returns" and "the suggested income threshold") are related to the current CVITP eligibility criteria.

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Figure 15 – Are there things about the CVITP you would like to change? If so, select a maximum of three responses that apply. (3,572 respondents)
Figure 15 - Image description

Image of a bar graph about respondents’ Desired changes for the CVITP. The title is bolded and center-aligned above the bar graph. The bars are horizontal and orange, with data callouts at the end indicating the response percentage rate. The vertical axis lists all the options respondents had when selecting their desired changes.

Response rates appear in the following order:

  • Support to complete returns for people with some self-employed income: 33%
  • The suggested income threshold: 30%
  • The ability to do reassessments: 23%
  • The authorization/consent form (TIS60): 22%
  • Offering financial literacy education to clients: 21%
  • Rules about holding onto taxpayer information: 16%
  • The availability of more clinics: 13%
  • How forms and other materials are distributed: 11%
  • Other: 11%

The CVITP guidelines advise volunteers to complete income tax returns only for individuals whose tax situation is simple (for example, not for individuals who are self-employed or who filed for bankruptcy).

The ability to complete returns for people with some self-employed income has been identified through feedback and other input as something the program could explore further. These survey results confirm that this is a common sentiment among many volunteers in the program. Completing self-employed income returns for CVITP clients is beyond the scope of the program, because they are not simple returns. Nevertheless, the CRA is exploring the feasibility of filing returns for people with some self-employment income.

Another desired change, the suggested income threshold, was addressed by the CVITP for the 2019 tax filing season. For everywhere outside of Quebec, the suggested income threshold was increased by 17%, from $30,000 to $35,000.

Financial literacy

Respondents recognize the importance of financial literacy. Respondents were asked if the CVITP should work with other organizations to provide more financial literacy training in clinics. About 2/3 of respondents agreed.

Figure 16 - The CVITP should offer financial literacy training in partnership with other organizations
  Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree
Default 67 26 7

The CVITP does not provide financial literacy resources as support to community organizations (for details, see III, under Opportunities for improvement). That said, the CVITP is aware that financial literacy is important for clients in filing their return and potentially receiving a refund. The CVITP will explore ways to promote financial literacy through working with partners.

Opportunities for improvement

Although the CVITP has acted on a number of fronts to improve the support it provides to organizations and volunteers, the survey results point to other insights for the program to explore and improve upon. Below are three opportunities for development that will help enhance the CVITP and help even more vulnerable people. These opportunities are listed by order of importance.

I. Provide more in-person training and enhanced training materials

There is an opportunity to make sure that training is detailed enough so that volunteers feel they have enough information to understand their duties and clients’ tax situations. The top three requested additions to training, as well as the top three population groups for which volunteers felt they needed more guidance, are included in CVITP training. The program updated some of its training profiles and modules to reflect these needs for the 2019 tax filing season. Also, the program is reviewing the training tools and methodologies to determine where to best make improvements. This work will guide a modernization of training tools to meet a variety of learning needs. The information gathered from the survey serves as a first reference point for this work.

II. Explore ways to advertise and promote free tax clinics more effectively

Since only 58% of respondents felt that the clinics are well advertised, this information points to an opportunity for improvement. Specifically in the context of this survey, this response rate is low. Respondents answered quite favourably when asked about other program parts (see Key findings).

The CRA will explore solutions with internal stakeholders to better promote and advertise tax clinics across the country. With Budget 2018, the CVITP received more funding to increase the number of people helped in Canada. Effectively promoting tax clinics will broaden the reach of the program and achieve its goal.

III. Offer financial literacy resources

The CVITP has heard feedback that financial literacy is an important part of tax filing and that many clients who use CVITP services would benefit from financial literacy training and resources. Financial literacy is not in the mandate of the program, but the CVITP recognizes the importance of supporting clients who use tax clinics in a more holistic way and is looking at developing partnerships to provide access to services.

Offering financial literacy resources to clients would be an added responsibility for volunteers and organizations, so teaming up with another partner may be beneficial for all.

Conclusion

Results from the CVITP’s first end-of-season survey, May 2018, are positive. Survey responses indicated volunteers feel supported, valued, and satisfied with their participation in the program. The survey also provided valuable insights from the perspective of organizations and volunteers that highlight challenges and opportunities to strengthen the program. Feedback from this survey has validated recent program improvements, and it will inform future program changes with the aim of enhancing client service and the reach of the program. Implementing effective solutions for volunteer and organizational needs will take time and ongoing collaboration to ultimately increase the number of people helped by the CVITP.

Tools like surveys and other methods of qualitative and quantitative research are being considered to get feedback early in the development process, to make sure program changes reflect the needs of volunteers and organizations who participate in the program. The CVITP intends to do end-of-season surveys annually to continue to draw on the experience of volunteers and organizations to make informed program improvements.

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