7 service problems accountants say the CRA could fix for tax preparers
Canadian accountants offer practical advice for "a tax season like no other"
TORONTO, March 22, 2021 – Canadian accountants say there are measures the Canada Revenue Agency could take right now to improve service during “a tax season like no other.” The CRA has struggled with customer service issues during this tax season, including account lockouts in both February and March, which were caused by cybersecurity concerns. While tax professionals acknowledge that measures such as the new automated callback “enhancement” option for T1s is working, more could be done in the broader area of income tax preparation and customer service.
- Extend the 2021 tax season deadline. The U.S. just announced last week that the federal income tax filing due date deadline has been extended. Given all the confusion around CERB, cybersecurity lockdowns and whatnot, how about extending the deadline in Canada?
- Stop deleting authorization requests: Would you mind leaving a message, please, when you call a taxpayer to confirm their representative? Practitioners say CRA staff are calling taxpayers to verify representative identification. If no one answers the phone, the CRA doesn’t leave a message and the authorization is deleted without notice. “We have worked hard to train clients that CRA does not call out of the blue and leave no messages but that scammers do.”
- Create a dedicated e-service phone line. Why do taxpayers need to call General Enquiries for Portal issues like My Account, My Business Account, and Represent a Client? You only get put in a second queue, where the wait time for e-services is much longer than general inquiries. Practitioners want to call for portal/IT support directly.
- Contact us first for T1 enquiries. When will the CRA change its approach on the “matching program” and pre- and post-assessment enquiries from “assess first, ask questions never” to “contact the taxpayer or their representative”?
- Stop finalizing files before you get all our submissions. Tax practitioners report that CRA auditors are finalizing audit files without reviewing all correspondence or documentation. The problem extends to appeals officers as well. These actions often lead to service complaints but tax practitioners report the complaints lead nowhere.
- Reduce the VDP application backlog. Some tax practitioners report having as many as 50 applications with the CRA under the new Voluntary Disclosure Program. Bennet Jones LLP reported in March 2020 (the start of pandemic lockdowns) that “CRA’s turnaround time for resolving VDP applications under the new rules is now approximately 350 days on average.” It might even be longer now.
- Get serious about cybersecurity and crisis communications. During the recent lockdown, some experts called for mandatory rather than optional two-factor authentication. The truth is that there are accounting practitioners who, for various reasons, will use the same ID/PW for multiple sites (which could contribute to the issue that caused the recent CRA lockdowns). Mandatory 2FA may be good for practitioners as well.
At the same time, given the prevalence of cybersecurity issues at the CRA, have a crisis communications plan in place that saves Canadians the inconvenience of being put on hold for hours on end, waiting for answers from a CRA call centre.
Do you have some practical advice for the CRA? Add it to the comments below. And watch out for our upcoming interview with Francois Boileau, the newly appointed Taxpayers' Ombudsperson.
Update March 23, 2021: We have heard much positive response from tax practitioners about this article. On the subject of authorization requests, one CPA suggested the "negative assurance" of having the CRA send a letter to taxpayers stating their accounting firm has been added as a representative. Another CPA commented on social media: "I have had so many authorizations deleted on me without as much as a call to see if the client would reprocess. Glad it’s been brought up hopefully it will change!"
And on the subject of VDP applications, one CPA stated "In 2020 I prepared 4 VDPS in March and April and I expect to hear back a year from now." And "... if you are extending tell us now, not the last week of April."
Another response: "How long is a reasonable hold time, CRA? Well, how long would it be OK for a CRA agent to wait on hold when phoning a tax preparation firm to ask a question, or a taxpayer to confirm a representative should be added to their account?"
We thank everyone for their positive responses.
Published by Canadian Accountant.