VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – In his latest report, federal auditor general Michael Ferguson says the Canada Revenue Agency is taking far too long to resolve disputes, costing taxpayers time and money.
Auditors found the CRA often leaves taxpayers in the dark about how long it will take to handle an income tax objection. The report found people often wait months to hear back after formally objecting to tax assessments, and appeals officers can wait more than a year when they request help from other areas of the agency.
These are issues which Vancouver-based tax lawyer Jeff Glasner contends with constantly. “We file these objections with a ‘smoking gun’ piece of evidence, that we just need someone at the other end to look at so they can close the file in our client’s favour, but even with those, we could be waiting up to a year or longer,” he says.
Glasner adds that the problem seems to be getting worse: the CRA used to provide loose timelines of six to nine months to discuss a file, but Glasner says now it’s nine months to a year.
The audit said it takes the taxman an average of 263 days to process an objection from an individual or corporation and 1,503 days for so-called group cases, that can include suspected tax evaders.
Glasner says for his clients, the stress and uncertainty during that waiting period can be damaging. “It’s causing them issues in their day-to-day life, in their relations with family members, in their business activities, in their jobs… they’re looking for a resolution as soon as possible.”
In the case of a GST assessment challenge, Glasner says the government can still collect while the objection outstanding. “You could have the CRA — and you often do — have them freezing your bank accounts, putting liens against your property, garnishing your paycheques, etcetera, so the delays really do hunt people directly on a GST objection.”
The CRA agreed with the recommendations of Ferguson’s audits, vowing to craft new policies, strategies, internal processes and reporting standards. However, Glasner says a simpler solution would be to hire more staff.
Auditors found that over the last 10 fiscal years, the inventory of outstanding cases grew by 171 per cent, while the number of employees dedicated to resolving them grew by only 14 per cent.