Ombudsperson Final Update - Without Delay

Background

In 2008, we started receiving complaints about the delays Canadians faced when requesting taxpayer relief. At the time, the requests were reviewed by many of the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) tax services offices.

In February 2010, the CRA began an initiative to centralize the review of these requests. As a result of this initiative, the workload was streamlined under a new program, the Taxpayer Relief Program. However, even after creating the Program, we continued to receive complaints on processing delays and on the CRA not confirming it received taxpayers’ requests.

Therefore, we opened an examination in 2012 to assess the status of the Program and to review the timelines and procedures that relate to acknowledging and processing requests. Our findings revealed:

To address the findings, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson recommended to the Minister of National Revenue that:

  1. For each taxpayer who has filed a request for relief, the CRA:
    1. Advise the taxpayer whether their request is routine or complex; and,
    2. Provide the taxpayer a clear and accurate estimated processing time.
  2. The CRA maintain nation-wide consistency in the processing times of taxpayer relief requests.
  3. The CRA review and identify the factors that contribute to fluctuations in the number of taxpayer relief requests, as well as the impact they may have on the Taxpayer Relief Program.
  4. The CRA allocate sufficient permanent funding to the Taxpayer Relief Program to allow for adequate planning, to ensure the Program consistently meets or improves upon its processing times for taxpayer relief requests.

The CRA accepted the first three recommendations, and noted the fourth. It also provided an action plan outlining how it intended to address the recommendations it accepted.

Update

Since the report was published, the CRA has provided updates on how it is following through with the recommendations. This is examined below.  

Acknowledgement letters

The CRA indicates it updated its templates to inform taxpayers if their request is routine or complex, and to provide an estimated processing time. In addition, the CRA indicates it updates taxpayers if the level of complexity of the request changes. This fulfils Recommendation 1 in its entirety. 

Nation-wide consistency 

The CRA indicates it has standardized how it documents decisions and has created a national inventory. A national inventory will help ensure that all taxpayers, regardless of where they live, get their request processed in a more consistent timeframe. This satisfies Recommendation 2. 

Influencing factors 

In Recommendation 3 we suggested the CRA review and identify which factors may increase requests. The CRA’s response to our recommendation indicates it was already aware of the factors and that it monitors all factors.

Sufficiently tracking what causes an increase in requests will ensure the CRA is prepared for any future influx. We are pleased to see the CRA is actively tracking and analyzing these factors, and encourage the CRA to continue to do so.

Conclusion

The key issues in the initial examination were the CRA not notifying Canadians that it received their taxpayer relief request, the processing time was different, depending on where the requester lived, and the CRA operated the Program with significant temporary funding.

We recommended the CRA notify Canadians early on in the process with an estimated processing time, request that it secure permanent funding, and provide a more consistent level of service to all Canadians, regardless of where they lived. 

We now receive very few complaints about taxpayer relief requests. In addition, the CRA has taken appropriate steps to address the recommendations. No further action will be taken by our Office at this time; however, we will continue to monitor the complaints we receive as well as outreach and media reports.

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