May 1 is normally a day when income tax preparers get to celebrate the end of personal tax season.
Not this year.
Due to security vulnerabilities caused by the Heartbleed bug and the subsequent shutdown of the Canada Revenue Agency’s online services, the CRA announced it will extend the filing deadline for individual taxpayers the equivalent length of the disruption, now four days and counting.
For income tax preparers like Liberty Tax Services in Halifax, N.S., the CRA disruption means it’s not business as usual for this time of year.
“It’s creating a lull in our business,” said Gerri MacVicar, who owns two franchise locations with her husband.
She said they can still input their client’s data but they can’t electronically file the returns until the CRA’s system is up and running. So while people are still doing “drop-offs,” clients won’t get their tax return in the regular 10-14 day period.
It also means that Ms. MacVicar’s business is taking a financial hit because she doesn’t ask for payment from her clients until their returns have been electronically filed. MacVicar said she has made half as much this week as projected based on past years.
“I’m hoping (the CRA website) is up and running tomorrow,” she said. “It’s coming out of my pocket to pay my staff.”
Her two locations are open year-round but they do the bulk of their business during personal tax season and employ four extra staff to handle the rush.
She wonders if the CRA will be able to handle the influx when the system opens up.
“They will be slammed,” she said.
Income tax preparers who charge their clients upfront and do not employ extra staff don’t appear to be feeling the effects of the CRA website shutdown as much as Ms. MacVicar.
“I don’t see any difference,” said Nava Thuraiappah, owner of Nava Income Tax Service in North York, Ont., about the number of clients filing with his business. He said 90 per cent of his clients are repeat customers and they are “little bothered,” by the filing delay.
But Mobility Financial Services in Calgary, Alta., has noticed the disruption. Income tax preparer Skyelar Siwak said it could affect the total number of people they are able to serve if they get flooded with clients later in the month.
“If we don’t have the capacity to handle it we might have to turn people away,” she said.
Mobility has seven year-round tax preparers and hires three extra people during personal income tax season. Ms. Siwak said it will cost more to keep these employees on for an extra week or two.
Asked how she feels about the tax deadline being extended beyond April 30, Ms. Siwak laughed.
“It’s not great, obviously.”