Canadian individual tax form T1 close-up

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) says it has no plans to eliminate paper income tax returns, even as it reports that close to 90% of all returns submitted last year were received in digital format.

“It’s really about not leaving anyone behind and making sure everyone has access to interact with us in as easy or straightforward manner as possible,” said Gillian Pranke, deputy assistant commissioner in the assessment, benefit, and service branch of the CRA, in a media briefing on Tuesday.

This week marks the official opening of the 2018 tax season, where the CRA begins the process of processing income tax returns.

This year, the CRA says it mailed paper-format income tax packages to 1.7 million individuals who had filed their returns in paper format last year. A limited quantity of 2018 tax packages are also made available at Canada Post and Service Canada outlets, as well as Caisse Populaire Desjardins locations in Quebec. Canadians can also find information on how to order packages by phone or online from these locations, should they not be available, the CRA says.

New for this year, the CRA has merged the paper tax forms and guides into a single “all in one” tax package, featuring simplified language, enhanced information on forms, and a more “user-friendly” design.

The CRA says it encourages Canadians to file their returns in the manner that suits them best, including online, by paper or by phone, for those who are eligible. “What’s important to us is to make sure that the tax filing is as simple as straightforward as possible,” Pranke says.

Among the reasons that individuals might still choose to file by paper is longstanding habit, perceived concerns around privacy, or a lack of access to technology, says Evelyn Jacks, a tax specialist and founder and president of Winnipeg-based The Knowledge Bureau. “We assume that all people in Canada have access to a computer, but they don’t,” says Jacks.

The CRA says it provides tax service to more than 27 million filers, and that the trend toward digital services continues to rise each year.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, 96% of tax returns were processed within two weeks of receiving of the CRA receiving a digital return or eight weeks of receiving a paper individual income return, the agency says.

The CRA also says it is improving services at its call centres after receiving complaints from Canadians about wait times and quality of service. The agency will now provide estimated wait times if an agent is not immediately available, and it has improved training for call centre agents.

The CRA is also expanding its new dedicated telephone service (DTS) for tax preparers to provide answers to complex questions about the Income Tax Act as they prepare returns and give tax advice to their clients. The DTS was started as a pilot project in July 2017 for chartered professional accountants in Ontario and Quebec. It has now been expanded nationally and is available to CPAs, as well as non-CPA employees, including accounting clerks, lawyers, and notaries. The DTS is available to small and medium-sized income tax service provider who register with the CRA for the service.