The Voluntary Disclosure Program (also known as VDP, Voluntary Disclosure Application, or Tax Amnesty) is a program that CRA administers to allow taxpayers to come clean about tax information the taxpayer previously failed to properly report. Properly applied for, this Voluntary Disclosure Program will allow you to benefit in three ways:
- Avoid penalties
- Reduce your interest burden on the tax that should have been paid earlier and (most importantly)
- Create a defence against criminal so you can avoid the potential fines and imprisonment.
The VDP Program generally applies where:
- Tax returns that have not been filed
- Tax returns were filed but you deducted for expenses that you had no right to claim (or could not support if audited)
- Tax returns that include contributions/write-offs related to investments, charity donation schemes, etc. that you were not entitled to
- Income (anywhere in the world) that you did not declare and more…
Whether you knew what you were doing was wrong or if these inaccuracies were the result of bad advice, poor bookkeeping or simply procrastination – a Voluntary Disclosure application can work in your favour to make the correction the least painful it could possibly be.
While in the above instances a Voluntary Disclosure Program application can make good sense, you must be confident that you qualify before approaching the government. If you do not qualify and “wake the sleeping bear” you may find yourself opening yourself up to severe collections action (or even prosecution) before you had got yourself into a position to deal with that type of fall out. To qualify for VDP:
- Tax disclosed must be at least one year old;
- It must involve a penalty;
- Your disclosure must be complete and
- Your disclosure must be voluntary.
The last point sounds very simple but is the most common reason we see VDP Applications being denied: if CRA has been contacting you to file your returns, has requested information about a past return or informed you of an upcoming audit or investigation – disclosure is not considered voluntary and you do not qualify.
The next challenge in filing a VDP Application is that you need to know what information you should not provide. You have to be very aware of the potential consequences of opening up other areas of question, audit or review that can come back to bite you. Do not include unnecessary information such as your banking information or personal financial information (not tax related) which is not relevant to the VDP application but can be used against you later – particularly in collection efforts by CRA. Sometimes this information is provided inadvertently. For example, sending a copy of a bank statement or sending payment directly from your account by cheque.
You also need to decide if you will avail yourself of the right to come forward anonymously. By correctly using this “No-Name Policy” process we are able to get from CRA a formal decision on the validity of your VDP Application without them knowing who you are. This is very useful where the consequences of coming to CRA’s attention without access to the VDP benefits would be extremely detrimental to you. Using this technique you can lock-in your protection under the safety of anonymity.
The VDP process is an official process that can take up to a year to complete. While the actual program is administered centrally by CRA, assessments and other issues related to your Voluntary Disclosure Application that need to be finalized by Revenue Canada can land at different processing centres for different years, issues, types of taxes, etc. These different tax service centers then process at different speeds resulting in confusion within the CRA assessment system. You can receive significantly incorrect assessments until the entire matter is once again brought back into the complete and organized package it started out as when you made the VDP Application. Knowing how to navigate the maze at CRA is an art form in itself.
- If you have undisclosed income or some other tax liability as described in this blog and have not yet been contacted by CRA – time is of the essence, get into the program before CRA gets to you.
- Ensure that you make complete disclosure
- Consider seeking professional representation to avoid being rejected because you make common mistakes of amateurs. At the very least ensure you have downloaded all CRA guides and are crystal clear on the process
- If your application or disclosure is not completed properly it can be rejected.
Remember that after you make your VDP application you will have a tax debt. If you cannot pay in full, CRA will come after you and look for any information they have on record relating to your employment, income sources, assets, bank accounts and anything else that they can seize or garnish to force you to pay. Payment plans are possible but these too are different to the standard business negotiations. Your professional can help here as well.
For more information about how to make a Voluntary Disclosure application please call 1-888-868-1400.