The CRA is well known as an extremely difficult institution to work with – and with good reason. When they believe that you owe money, they are tenacious about collecting and closing the file so they quickly go from friendly and cooperative to cunning and fierce in their efforts to get the results they want. Even if you believe an assessment is incorrect, it can be incredibly difficult to get someone to listen to (and actually hear) you.
Business logic and common courtesy (along with logic and fairness) seem to go right out the window. It isn’t as though you can just call CRA and have a logical and informative conversation that moves things forward to fair conclusion.
When it comes to enforcement action, CRA collections agents are well trained to use all tools at their disposal to get you to surrender and hand over your hard-earned money. Calls to your home and work place can be troublesome and embarrassing. Frozen bank accounts usually result in serious financial issues (cannot pay suppliers, or your mortgage and car payments).
One other big factor that makes this situation unique: CRA is not like any other creditor – they do not need a court order or even a hearing before they go after you. Without specific notice to you CRA can (and do) place liens on people’s homes, freeze bank accounts and seize wages. After they have sent the assessment or other notice they expect compliance and if it does not happen to their satisfaction their collection officers will take increasingly aggressive action.
So, when it comes to collections agents, how can you protect yourself? Are you just expected to bend to their will and give up? No. Defend yourself effectively – don’t let CRA intimidate you! You have rights.
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights is a document which outlines your rights as a Canadian taxpayer. It details the treatment that you can expect to receive, and explains how you can obtain recompense when a wrong has taken place. There are 16 rights relating to issues such as service, language and confidentiality. For example, the rights discuss how CRA must provide you with information in a timely manner, in a language that is clear and easy to understand, as well as the fact that you must have a chance to object to penalties and reassessments that you believe are incorrect.
Making a complaint according to your rights is a formal process – it is more than the simple making of a call. Depending on the type of complaint, you must correctly complete the appropriate form and submit it to the appropriate department. If, once you have received notice regarding your complaint and a resolution has been met and you are still dissatisfied with the outcome, you can file a complaint with the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman. The Ombudsman’s role is to complement and enhance the accountability of CRA, and provide more recourse for action on your behalf.
Keep in mind, no matter your complaint, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights is unlikely to end in the elimination of a tax debt. That being said, it is critical to know your rights with regard to your responsibilities as a taxpayer, as well as the ways in which the Bill of Rights works to protect you.
To find out more about defending yourself against CRA collections agents, as well as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, please call 1-888-868-1400.