Service improvement request - Resources Available for Gender Based Violence
In 2021 we requested that the CRA create an active web page for Canadians about what to do if the CRA requires or requests information, such as spousal information, that may put them in danger. We stressed to the CRA that the web page should be gender neutral and relevant to Canada’s entire population, which is diverse in faiths and ethnicities. We made this request because we found that, at that time, the CRA was not providing complete or clear information on Canada.ca, and it spoke only to a segment of those who could be in an abusive or violent situation. Specifically, the content was directed at women in shelters. As a result, it was not easy for Canadians in an abusive or violent situation to find the information they needed.
Taking action on our request, the CRA released Getting benefits and credits when in an abusive or violent situation in December 2021. Since the release, thousands of Canadians have used the web page as a resource and have been empowered with more complete information.
While we have been pleased with the CRA’s implementation of our request, we feel more work is needed to help Canadians who experience gender-based violence in its many forms. Additionally, although the CRA had developed and launched this web page, it still needs improvement to make sure it meets the needs of its target audience.
For example, when the CRA launched the web page, we had concerns because it did not direct visitors on how to remove a representative from their CRA account. We know that “[o]ne-quarter of victims of police-reported violence are victimized by a family member,” and the CRA itself identifies family members as a common representative. Therefore, we felt it was prudent to identify this area for improvement. When we asked the CRA why information about how to remove a representative was not included at launch, it indicated that it was due to time constraints. It did however update the web page after the launch to include this information, following our enquiry.
Since the launch, one of our stakeholders has indicated that it can be complicated to update all the necessary information with the CRA, especially in times of crisis. This complexity acts as a barrier to accessing benefits, especially for those who need them most. The need for consistency was also highlighted, as well as additional information that would be helpful for service users.
When examining the “Keep your personal information up to date” section of the web page, we found many updates a person experiencing violence would need to make. However, to do so, they may think they need to call different telephone numbers and go to different web pages. For example, the CRA currently directs Canadians to call 1‑800‑959-8281 for the majority of tasks, such as to cancel an authorized representative, and to call 1-800-387-1193 to update their marital status. That said, the CRA indicates that all agents could handle all the changes, except for e‑Services-only agents, who would need to transfer the call to a different agent.
The CRA could provide one simple solution to Canadians experiencing violence. Those in crisis should not be transferred to multiple agents (as this can be re-traumatizing), and the agent they disclose their situation to (whether it is when they call 1-800-959-8281 or 1-800-387-1193) should assist them with all their needs in a way that is trauma and violence informed. Alternatively, the CRA could provide a single number to help those in an abusive situation.
On Canada.ca there is not a consistent approach to providing those in an abusive or violent situation with the information they need so they are not put in danger. The CRA provides good information on the Canada child benefit page; however, as some benefits are not administered by the CRA, there is a lack of consistency on Canada.ca. For example, Old Age Security is administered by Service Canada, and as such their web pages do not link to the CRA’s web page. This can be problematic, because people need the information on the CRA’s web page. It might be beneficial if the CRA and other government departments and agencies work together, much like they do for scams, so that there is a more universal approach that is easier to navigate.
Factsheet with limited audience
We heard that the Factsheet: Women in shelters that the CRA provides to Canadians contains good information in general, but it only speaks to a limited audience (women who access shelters), rather than survivors of gender-based violence in general. The CRA should take advantage of existing gender-based analysis information and resources from existing focus groups and engagement efforts to inform its work so more Canadians in a violent or abusive situation have resources available to them. The CRA could provide another more general resource, much like it does on its web page, Getting benefits and credits when in an abusive or violent situation. This would be beneficial because it would allow community organizations to post it in applicable locations. It would also be useful to expand the list of trusted third parties to include community-based agencies providing support related to violence and abuse to make sure that not only survivors who access shelters or report to the police can access benefits.
Enhance the content on Getting benefits and credits when in an abusive or violent situation
Speak to the visitor
We have heard that the web page as it is currently laid out does not speak to the visitor directly, as it does not acknowledge the impact that not receiving a benefit can have on those in an abusive or violent situation. The CRA indicates that it wants to provide Canadians with “personal and tailored services” for their unique situations, so it should add content about financial and economic abuse.
Web page visitor experience
We have heard the content does not include the information needed to address some specific gender-based violence questions. Some web pages use frequently asked questions because there is a perception that they allow people to get quick answers to their questions. Taking this into consideration, the CRA may find it advantageous to carry out user testing. This will help the CRA understand if its web page meets visitors’ needs and identify opportunities for improvement.
Based on the above, to improve the clarity and completeness of information available to Canadians who are in an abusive or violent situation, as well as to improve the service the CRA provides to Canadians, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson requests that the CRA make the following service improvements:
- Consult with internal and external stakeholders:
- to ensure that Getting benefits and credits when in an abusive or violent situation meets the needs of those in an abusive or violent situation
- to create a gender-based violence factsheet
- Ensure that it applies Gender-based Analysis Plus to its policies, products, and processes.
- Ensure that its processes are easy to navigate and accessible by allowing those in an abusive or violent situation to contact one area that can help them with updating all of their information.
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