Online information for Canadians owing money

Background information

Over the past few years, the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson (OTO) has continued to receive complaints about Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) collection efforts. Many Canadians tell us the CRA is causing them hardship by collecting too much money at one time. We recognize that collection efforts can be challenging for both the CRA, which is trying to collect the debt, and for the taxpayer, who may be experiencing difficulty in paying it. For collection efforts to be effective, there should be cooperation on both sides. Cooperation also helps prevent the taxpayer from being put in hardship, because they can express ”how much is too much” to the CRA.

Canadians who meet all of the following criteria are eligible for interest relief for their 2020 taxes owing:

In this unique year, there is no better time for cooperation, as some of those who received COVID-19 benefits can now benefit from the Government of Canada’s interest relief. Eligible individuals now have until April 30, 2022, to pay their income tax debt for the 2020 tax year. This should help many Canadians, as it does allow them “more time and flexibility to pay if they have an amount owing.”1

The CRA understands that many Canadians have seen their financial situation affected by COVID-19 and it wants to focus on helping them resolve their debts. The CRA encourages taxpayers to be proactive and to make contact to confirm their contact information and to work with it to develop a suitable payment arrangement based on their ability to pay. Payment arrangements parameters have been expanded to reflect current realities resulting from COVID-19 to give taxpayers time to repay. The CRA makes every effort to work with taxpayers to resolve their debt and it is sensitive to anyone experiencing financial hardship.

Therefore, we encourage Canadians and the CRA to work cooperatively and establish a mutually-agreeable payment arrangement, when an amount is owed. Then the CRA will not need to take legal action. This is especially important right now, knowing that collections efforts may increase, considering the CRA’s planned post-compliance work for the Canada Emergency Recovery Benefit (CERB).

The issue

Taxpayers are not sufficiently informed that the CRA will be flexible in recovering the CERB, nor do the CRA’s webpages direct Canadians intuitively.

That said, the CRA’s landing page starts the process well. Visitors would naturally click on Payments to the CRA. Then from there they would click Payments for individuals. However, this is where the visitors are presented with 7 choices, including Make a payment, Repay COVID-19 benefits, Arrange to pay your debt over time, and Unable to pay.

The subtext for Make a payment indicates “Payment options to make a full or partial payment, either online, by mail, or in-person” and while those making a partial payment could be provided with information on a CRA payment arrangement here, they are not. Instead, taxpayers must click on Arrange to pay your debt over time to find information on paying an outstanding debt over an extended period of time.

Further, if the visitor navigates to Repay COVID-19 benefits, then selects Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and answers the CRA’s questions, they are then provided with information on how to pay the full amount back to the CRA. The CRA does not provide information on what to do if you cannot afford to repay the full balance.

Alternatively, Canadians wanting to pay back a CERB overpayment may navigate to Collections at the CRA, then choose Collection of overpayments, but the information on this page does not reference the CERB, or that the CRA collects overpayments of the CERB. Further, how the information is displayed makes it difficult for visitors to determine if they can make a payment arrangement to pay back a CERB overpayment.

For the CRA to effectively collect the money the Government of Canada is owed, payment should be a manageable expense for Canadians. While some may be able to pay the full amount, others may need more time.

The CRA indicates that it actively provides information on both payment arrangements and the interest that is added on any unpaid amounts in its direct interaction with Canadians and on its website. However, we believe the CRA should make it easier and more intuitive to get information on payment arrangements, while at the same time informing Canadians of any added costs that could be attributed to paying their debt over time.

Service Improvement

To improve the online information available to Canadians on their options when owing money, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson requests that the CRA make the following service improvement:

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