Complaints about CRA up 70 per cent from pre-pandemic year: taxpayers’ watchdog

OTTAWA –

The number of complaints about the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) filed with the taxpayers’ watchdog more than doubled in the last fiscal year compared to pre-pandemic numbers, according to Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson Francois Boileau.

Boileau, who presented his annual report to Parliament on Tuesday, said most of the complaints related to delays in obtaining COVID-19 related benefits — which accounted for 40 per cent of the complaints to his office — and the quality of service provided by CRA contact centres.

“Our office received a total of 3,847 complaints, an increase of more than 70 per cent, or twice the number of pre-pandemic complaints,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Boileau said many people experienced delays in validating eligibility for COVID-19 benefits, with the issue affecting “our most vulnerable populations” who then struggled to pay for groceries, medications, and other bills.

“It was a huge concern for us,” he said. “We’ve tackled this with the CRA, and we didn’t receive the answers that we were looking for.”

“Therefore, there’s a complete chapter in our annual report that is dedicated to this issue and to the fact that the CRA should have communicated better with Canadians,” he added, “so they would have understood from the get go what they were up against in terms of waiting for the process to be to be handled with the CRA.”

Boileau said the issue resulted in his office sending more than 1,700 urgent requests to the CRA. He said this was an increase of 130 per cent compared to 2020-21, which was already a record year for such requests.

Complaints to the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson’s office jumped from 1,507 in the 2019-20 fiscal year to 3,533 in 2020-21, and then to 3,847 last year. Boileau said some of the recommendations from his report last year — which could have helped address some of the issues — have yet to be implemented.

“We believe that communication is key and that keeping Canadians informed should be the top priority for the agency,” Boileau said. “There is still much room for improvement for the agency to communicate transparently with Canadians and deliver services in a timely manner.

“The CRA’s contact centres continue to be a large complaint driver,” he said. “For years we’ve heard from Canadians about their dissatisfaction with the service.”

He said excessive wait times, receiving conflicting or inconsistent information, and calls being dropped prematurely, are the cause of frequent complaints to his office.

“It had a huge impact on us over the last year,” Boileau said.

In his latest report, the ombudsperson is calling for the CRA to make a series of changes, including:

  • Looking for ways in which taxpayers can receive a security code the same day it is requested, for timely access to their CRA Account. The CRA currently has a policy of mailing out authentication forms and security codes.
  • Finding a way to provide in-person, same-day identity verification of a taxpayer; and
  • Making it clear to Canadians that receiving certain benefits could increase their income, and informing applicants that the increase could affect their other income-based benefits.

Boileau said despite the “record numbers” of complaints, his office’s services are still unknown to many, and he’ll continue to “inform Canadians of their rights as taxpayers.”

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