Tax inspection

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has removed guidance from its website directing taxpayers to contact a CRA official before speaking with their tax advisor where the CRA has reached out regarding a compliance issue.

The agency made the move after receiving a service improvement request from the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson François Boileau, asking the agency to update its processes and content to ensure it respects the taxpayer’s “right to be represented by a person of their choice,” which is included in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

In a release Thursday, the ombudsperson said the CRA’s guidance to taxpayers to contact a CRA officer first might create an issue for the taxpayer.

“Advising taxpayers to contact the CRA prior to their tax preparer may limit individuals from receiving crucial tax advice about their tax and benefit affairs. This could lead taxpayers to being less informed about their taxes when contacting the CRA first,” the ombudsperson said in its service improvement request.

The guidance had been found on the CRA’s “assisted compliance program” web page. It suggested that taxpayers “discuss the details of the letter with the CRA officer to make sure you fully understand your obligations before contacting your tax preparer.”

Under the assisted compliance program, the CRA sends letters to businesses and self-employed individuals to highlight potential compliance issues, followed up by a call two weeks later from a CRA officer “to help [taxpayers] better understand their tax obligations, and provide information on the steps to self-correct the tax issue.”

The ombudsperson also flagged issues with the CRA’s audit process for charities, where it found that CRA’s audit manual instructed CRA auditors to contact a director of a charity directly, not the director’s authorized representative, even where the authorized representative previously informed the CRA to contact them for all financial matters on the director’s behalf.

While there may be instances where contacting the director is more expedient for the CRA, “if a taxpayer requests that the CRA contact their authorized representative, then the CRA should respect this choice,” the ombudsperson said.

John Oakey, vice president of taxation with CPA Canada in Halifax, said the Income Tax Act is “extraordinarily complicated” and taxpayers should have the right to have somebody represent them.

While the CRA intends its assisted compliance program to be an informal, educational process, the choice of having an authorized representative “is always at the discretion of the taxpayer,” Oakey said.

A representative can also help ensure that the CRA is following its own procedure, which is of particular importance if the taxpayer is the subject of an audit, Oakey said. For example, the representative can ensure the taxpayer is not “giving CRA way more information than they need” or have a right to demand.

Created in 2008, the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson is an independent body from the CRA that assists, advises and informs the Minister of National Revenue about matters relating to services provided by the CRA.