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CRA watchdog flooded with complaints from Canadians still being pursued after repaying CERB

Canada’s taxpayers’ ombudsperson says his office is being flooded with dozens of complaints from Canadians who say the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is still asking them to repay pandemic-era benefits they’ve already paid back.

François Boileau said since the end of tax season this spring, his office has heard from an unusually large number of Canadians who say they had their tax return clawed back.

“This is highly unusual for our office. This is the first time ever where we’re under immense pressure,” Boileau said.

In December, Canada’s auditor general found that roughly $4.6 billion in pandemic benefits such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) had been sent to ineligible individuals.

Many Canadians have seen their tax refunds withheld after the CRA deemed them ineligible for benefits they received. The agency said in May that $237 million had been collected from about 775,000 Canadians by clawing back tax refunds and other benefits.

Some taxpayers have disputed that and asked for a review of their eligibility. But others who say they received an overpayment by mistake and have since given the money back are still being denied their tax return.

Since April, Boileau’s office has seen roughly 60 complaints from taxpayers who said the CRA is still pursuing money they’ve already paid back.

A sign reading "Canada Revenu Agency" under the shade of a tree stands next to an old brick building.
Boileau said his office has seen dozens of new complaints from taxpayers who said the CRA is still pursuing them for money they’ve already paid back. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

As a result, the office is facing a backlog of complaints. Currently the office is still addressing complaints it received in early June, despite bringing in extra staff to help. A spokesperson for his office said it can take as long as 120 days to process those complaints.

“We have so much pressure right now that we cannot deal with any new complaints [right away],” Boileau said, though he still encouraged Canadians to reach out if they’re having problems.

Boileau said the most common complaints are from people who repaid another department, such as Employment and Social Development Canada, but are still being hit with clawbacks from the CRA.

“They’re being asked to repay again because there [was a] miscommunication between the two departments,” he said.

When CBC asked Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier’s office if she’s concerned about the backlog, a spokesperson said the government has increasingly provided the ombudsperson’s office with resources to carry out its work.

“We have full confidence in the quality and effectiveness of the Ombudsperson’s work and will continue to monitor the situation closely,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Katrina Miller, executive director of Canadians for Tax Fairness, said she isn’t surprised by the backlog of complaints.

“It kind of fits a pattern where we’ve just seen a very confused response from the CRA in terms of CERB repayment,” Miller said.

“It is the government of Canada’s job to figure out its discrepancies internally so that it can communicate in a clear and transparent way.”

In May, Boileau said he was considering launching a formal investigation into whether there is a larger systemic issue at play. A spokesperson for his office said it’s still considering an investigation but is currently focused on addressing complaints.

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