The Canada Revenue Agency will not compensate Canadians penalized on their taxes after getting bad advice from agents. Members of the Commons finance committee yesterday criticized a 30 percent failure rate involving Agency responses to taxpayers’ questions.
“Honestly, it looks like it is not a success,” said MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, Que.), New Democrat finance critic. “You don’t answer the phone, and when you do 30 percent of taxpayers calling in are given inaccurate information.”
“If a taxpayer believes they have been misinformed – and that might be up to 30 percent of taxpayers – and that causes them any harm, they have no recourse to prove it is your Agency that misinformed them. Do you undertake to compensate all Canadians who are financially harmed from receiving misinformation from your agents?”
Revenue Commissioner Bob Hamilton did not offer compensation. “When it comes to the quality of answers provided by the Agency, we are now focusing on personnel training,” said Hamilton. The Agency noted it does not keep audio tapes that callers might use in a tax appeal. “New technology will allow us to tape calls,” said Hamilton. “We don’t have that capacity now.”
The Auditor General in a November 21 report Call Centres – Canada Revenue Agency said taxpayers who dial 1-800 lines have only a 1 in 3 chance of speaking to a live operator, and of those who do, an average 30 percent of test questions drew an inaccurate response. Questions asked by auditors were similar to those used by the Agency for self-assessment, wrote auditors.
In one example, auditors asked: “My 2015 tax return was reassessed and I owe an amount. When should I expect collection action to begin if I’m objecting to the reassessment?” The correct reply is 90 days after an appeal decision. A total 52 percent of agents gave wrong advice, including: “It depends on the amount”; “It could take a couple of weeks”; and “Normally, collection action will continue when you file an objection.”
Commissioner Hamilton yesterday told the Commons finance committee the Agency knew of the problem. “They weren’t new issues that the Auditor General raised,” said Hamilton; “If anyone should complain about the Agency, it is possible of course to file an appeal.”
The committee rejected a motion by MP Dusseault for special hearings on the audit, including testimony from administrators who run nine Agency call centres. “We need to delve into this appropriately,” said Dusseault.
Conservative MP Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard) described the service as “awful”: “The most interaction a person will have with government in Canada is paying their taxes,” said Kmiec; “One of the fundamental things we do is review how government operates, and what it does.”
The audit concluded Canada had the worst 1-800 service of any comparable system surveyed in the U.S., U.K. or Australia. Of a total 53.5 million calls to 1-800 numbers, more than half – a total 29 million calls – were dropped due to busy signals, obliging taxpayers to make an average three calls a week to reach an agent.