Canadian accountants petition CRA for tax deadline extension
More than 50,000 taxpayers are signing petition available on Change.org
TORONTO, Apr. 18, 2021 – More than 50,000 taxpayers and tax preparers have signed a petition on Change.org pleading with the Canadian government for an extension of the April 30 tax filing deadline for T1 personal income tax returns. According to the petition, “the current worsening situation with the pandemic across our country is creating an unprecedented strain on the resources of tax preparers and many believe that they will not be able to comply with the April 30 filing deadline.”
Hugh Woolley, an independent income tax consultant with Lewis & Company Chartered Professional Accountants in Vancouver, began the petition one week ago. According to Woolley and the thousands of Canadian accountants who have signed the petition to date, the situation is dire for a variety of reasons. Many accounting practitioners — especially female practitioners, who are typically tasked with childcare responsibilities or caring for family members affected by the COVID-19 virus and its variants — say they will be unable to make the April 30 deadline without penalty.
A grassroots protest movement of Canadian accountants
As an independent tax consultant, Woolley is in contact with many practitioners, and says over two-thirds of firms he heard from require an extension. “Many of our clients are smaller accounting firms that hire us as subcontractors to assist with their higher level tax projects such as estate planning and the purchase and sales of businesses,” explains Woolley, who also sent an appeal to Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier.
“We were receiving feedback from these smaller accounting firms that they were in real trouble in trying to meet the April 30th filing deadline. Many expressed to us that things were much worse than last year when there was a lengthy extension.” Once he started the petition, he circulated it to accounting firm clients across Canada. Within hours, he had 400 signatures. In less than one week, the petition reached 30,000 signatures. The petition surpassed 50,000 signatures today.
Woolley reports that, in the first week of the non-partisan appeal to the CRA, the signatures were “virtually all from professional income tax preparers” but has attracted the signatures of many Canadians who prepare their own income tax return. Not all accounting firms favour an extension, says Woolley, “but very clearly over two-thirds of firms that we heard from needed an extension.”
Wooley also reports that the vast majority of those overwhelmed with the pending deadline were women who worked as either sole proprietors or in smaller firms. He speculates many have additional child care responsibilities and this is an issue during the pandemic, especially with school closures.
Female practitioners, smaller accounting firms inordinately affected
Rachelle Laferrière runs Rachelle Laferriere CGA Professional Corp, an accounting practice in the eastern Ontario town of Embrun.
Rachelle Laferrière runs an accounting practice in the eastern Ontario town of Embrun. “I am one of many small offices that have been severely impacted by Covid while trying to meet the April 30 deadline,” she explains. “From discussions with colleagues it appears that it is specifically smaller offices who rely on employees who have had the most setbacks.”
Laferrière has four part-time employees, three of whom have young children. She explains that both practitioners and their employees are struggling with stay-at-home orders, isolation orders, family members with Covid, and more. “This during the busiest months of the year is devastating,” says Laferrière. “I also had to isolate for two weeks in February as I was exposed to a person with Covid.”
Smaller accounting firms, especially those in rural areas, have experienced other types of challenges. “When employees tried working from home last tax year we had difficulties with the rural internet services in some parts of eastern Ontario,” explains Laferrière.
Some clients, especially seniors, cannot leave their homes to sign their forms at firms. “This impacts seniors who are the most vulnerable as they are the ones who cannot do electronic signatures,” says Laferrière. “Many people, even if they have computers and email, don't have scanners that would allow them to submit their tax information to their accountant while still respecting the lockdown.”
Although working from home has worked well for many accounting firms, it very clearly slows down the process,” explains Woolley. “Many have family members who have suffered from Covid and have been needed to help with care or have been locked out of their office. Those that have been fortunate enough to be vaccinated often feel under the weather for a few days. Losing three days in April is the equivalent of 10 per cent of tax season.”
CRA service problems making situation worse
Woolley and Laferrière note that CRA service issues have exacerbated an already impossible situation. “It is impossible to get through on the CRA phone lines,” says Woolley. “Being on hold for over three hours is standard and you are lucky if your call doesn't get dropped. Last August, the CRA was the victim of a massive cyber-attack and thousands are still locked out of their CRA online accounts.” (Canadian Accountant reported on these issues and raised them with the Taxpayers' Ombudsperson.)
Adds Laferrière, “In past years, CRA has been generous in extending deadlines for less problematic reasons. The Heartbleed security bug of 2014 was a minor inconvenience compared to what we face now.”
Practitioners report that, not only have tax slips been delayed this year, but they are still finding some slips are not yet available. Says Woolley: “Tax slips for 2020 were notoriously late due to a variety of reasons including substantially more reporting required on T4 employment income slips. This required reporting income by the period in which it was earned to permit the CRA to match CERB payments.
“Also, I suspect many businesses were struggling to issue their slips due to internal issues, like people working from home, and waited until the last day to submit their slips or simply late-filed these slips. This means that individuals who had to include these slips on their returns had to delay submitting their tax information to their accountant, if they had invested in any of these investments (like mutual fund trusts).”
Impact of the pandemic and service delays
Practitioners are petitioning the government for the benefit of taxpayers. Says Laferrière: “I have had to let go of a significant number of clients in order to meet deadlines in the past year. However, even with this reduction of work, the additional challenges of Covid, and those in the last few months in particular have made April 30 unrealistic. In our local area people seem to be having difficulty finding someone to help with their taxes. We turn down potential new clients every week and have been doing so all year.”
Laferrière also notes the substantial time she has spent processing wage subsidy applications. “I have had to tell clients that I could not help with the rent subsidies as we have not had enough time to add this to the backlog of work that we were working on all summer last year.”
The Canada Revenue Agency warned Canadians earlier this year that 2021 would be “a tax season like no other.” Working from home, isolation, illness and childcare, senior citizens and primary caregivers, technology gaps and more — for more than 50,000 taxpayers and preparers across Canada, tax season has been a perfect storm — one which for which the CRA is partly to blame, due to ongoing service issues.
Canadian Accountant supports accounting practitioners across Canada in asking the federal government to extend the April 30 tax deadline. We urge readers to add their names to the petition at Change.org.
Colin Ellis is a contributing editor to Canadian Accountant.