Five years ago, the federal government introduced the Office of the Taxpayers Ombudsman.
The office was intended to improve the Canada Revenue Agency’s accountability and to assist taxpayers with the resolution of their service-related complaints.
Late last week, the Ombudsman, Paul Dube, released his fifth annual report, a summary of the still-new office’s efforts and results.
Dube has made recommendations — all accepted by the National Revenue Minister — in six Special Reports, and examined thousands of individual complaints. In the last year alone, 990 Canadian taxpayers submitted a CRA tax complaint.
“It has been five years already, and I am very proud of the work we have accomplished during that time,” said Dube said in a news release.
In the report, Dube says he sees many challenges remaining ahead.
“Taxpayers increasingly expect speed and convenience in their communications with government agencies,” he writes. “Realizing that my Office is no exception, we have responded to those expectations by launching an electronic online complaint form and revising our policies and procedures to make them more responsive to the needs of stakeholders.
“We will continue to seek ways to enhance our service to taxpayers through the development and measurement of service standards, as well as improve the transparency of our operations by making our investigative procedures accessible on our website.”
Among the challenges, he said, are:
- Lack of awareness by Canadians of their rights as taxpayers
- Lack of confidence they will be treated fairly by the CRA
- More transparent, fair service culture at the CRA
Taxpayers need more awareness
It seems the report also indicates many Canadians are unsure of or lack knowledge of the tax process. Of 411 investigations regarding the Taxpayers’ Rights, 234 were dismissed without merit.
The Office of the Ombudsman receives many complaints from taxpayers alleging payments from the government are misallocated.
The CRA, the report notes, processes 34 million payments from Canadian taxpayers. Many of those taxpayers have multiple accounts, including personal income tax accounts, corporate accounts, and tax (GST/HST) accounts.
Those taxpayers sometimes find their payments are not applied to the correct account, and they are assessed interest and penalty charges for the mistake. Some face payment demands from CRA collections officers.
“Our investigation revealed that payment misallocations occur due to errors, both by the CRA and taxpayers,” the report says. “We learned that the CRA has quality assurance measures in place to detect and correct its own internal processing errors.
“However, if a misallocation is the result of an error or omission by a taxpayer, the controls to detect the problem are less stringent.”
The CRA has implemented some electronic payment options to minimize the errors but the problem persists. The Ombudsman recommends the CRA determine a limit on how many payments can be made at one time. Dube also recommends the CRA conduct an awareness campaign to educate Canadians on how to avoid making remittance errors and how to correct them when they do occur.
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The Canada Revenue Agency has an active Twitter account. If you’re interested in following the account, you can the CRA at@CanRevAgency.