Canadians who need answers from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for ongoing or complex tax-filing issues and those who still file paper returns will be most negatively affected by the strike of some 39,000 agency employees, tax experts say.

“It is getting more and more difficult for people and businesses that are not computer savvy to be served by CRA, Service Canada, etc.,” wrote Catharine Williams, a CPA with Catharine E. Williams, Professional Corp. in London, Ont. in an email to Investment Executive.

Williams said the vast majority of her firm’s clients have set up online CRA access and direct deposit of government payments.

Jason Heath, managing director with Objective Financial Partners in Toronto, noted that it’s already a busy time to call the CRA. “Individuals calling [during the strike] will be stuck with longer wait times due to reduced agent capacity,” he wrote in an email. “Business tax inquiries will not be available.”

On Wednesday, the Public Service Alliance of Canada declared a general strike involving 159,000 public servants, including CRA employees generally working in revenue collections, client services, and appeals and audits. CRA management and employees belonging to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada union are not part of the strike and will continue to provide essential services.

Armando Minicucci, a tax partner with Grant Thornton LLP in Toronto, said in an email that most taxpayers today file electronically and thus are unlikely to run into issues as the CRA’s online services are expected to remain operational.

“However, those [Canadians] that paper file their returns can expect a significant delay,” Minicucci said.

On its website, the CRA indicated that all paper returns and mail it receives “will be stockpiled for future processing.”

Williams said that she and her team typically have little direct contact with CRA agents on most files. However, she expects unusual files that require answers from a CRA official may be more challenging to address during the strike.

Indeed, Canadians dealing with complex tax issues who don’t already use a tax advisor “to help them navigate through it using the tax advisor’s access to the CRA website” may find it particularly difficult to resolve those issues, at least in the short term, Williams said: “None of us are going to take on new clients with tax problems in the last two weeks of April.”

On its website, the CRA said the Canada Child Benefit program would continue to operate through the labour disruption, as would the benefit inquiries phone line responding to calls regarding the issuance of payments. On the individual tax phone line, priority would be given to callers who need to file a return to obtain family or child benefits.

Minicucci recommended taxpayers register with CRA My Account if they haven’t already done so. Access to a CRA account gives taxpayers the ability to monitor the status of their tax return, tax refund or current balance owing, and it provides them with the ability to print out their notice of assessment, which they might need to support a loan or refinancing application.

Despite the strike, the CRA has indicated that the general filing deadline remains May 1 (since April 30, the traditional deadline, is a Sunday).