Many Canadian tax preparers are calling for an extension to the federal deadline – this Friday, April 30 – as they struggle with strained resources and technical challenges posed by the pandemic.
Last year, the deadlines to file and pay were extended to June 1 and Sept. 30, respectively, owing to difficulties people were experiencing during the pandemic and resulting lockdowns. Quebec recently announced it will waive penalties for returns filed as late as May 31, while the United States has pushed back its filing deadline from mid-April to mid-May. But the Canada Revenue Agency is offering no such extensions this time around despite the continuing battle against the virus.
Renée le Nobel, who files personal taxes for her clients, thinks the deadline should be pushed back again. She has been working almost every day since January.
“I’ve taken the odd day off,” Ms. le Nobel said. “But I’m an early morning person, so I get up at six, start working and I work through until usually around bedtime.”
She takes a break a few times each day to cook meals for herself and her two children, she said, and the next day she gets up to “do it all over again.”
“Tax season is always kind of brutal,” she said. “But this one seems more brutal.”
A petition started April 9 by Vancouver-based tax consultant Hugh Woolley requests “an extension to June 15 for all individuals.” The petition was launched by a group of independent income tax consultants after hearing concerns from clients about being able to meet the deadline, Mr. Woolley said.
“I think it gives a voice to the people who are really struggling,” he said. “There’s a lot of people saying, ‘Look, we’re exhausted. We’re working till midnight … seven days a week, and we’re starting to be under mental stress here. This is not healthy.’”
As a precedent, Mr. Woolley pointed to 2014, when the CRA extended the tax-filing deadline owing to the Heartbleed software bug, which was a “very minor inconvenience to most people.” So he said he can’t see why the government can’t “do the rational thing” by extending the deadline again.
But he acknowledged that not all accountants want the deadline extended. Some have valid concerns, such as the impact on personal life and business operations of an extended tax season. Accountants need only think back to last year, he said, to remember a tax season that probably “went too long,” forcing personal and corporate tax workloads to overlap.
Josée Cabral, a spokesperson for H&R Block, said it’s a “citizen obligation” to file taxes by the deadline.
“To us, it’s like any other tax season,” Ms. Cabral said. “[The] tax deadline has always been April 30. The only reason it got pushed back last year is because of the extreme measures of the lockdown due to a pandemic that was worldwide. There was no other choice but to extend the tax season.”
A lot of people have delayed filing this year, she said, because they’re worried they’ll owe money after receiving government relief benefits.
The federal government is giving some people who earn less than $75,000 and received pandemic benefits extra time to pay the amount owing this year, but she said people should still file on time to avoid losing out on tax benefits.
Ms. le Nobel said many of her clients work from home and have more free time, so they’ve been contacting her sooner than normal to start their taxes. “They would file if they could,” she said, citing some of the challenges people have faced when trying to file this year.
“There’s information they’re missing or there’s something they need to clarify with the CRA,” she said. “Or there’s just something making them incapable of filing on time.”
She said technical challenges have been particularly prevalent among her older clients, and parents have struggled to find the time to retrieve their paperwork. But the biggest problem has been getting the CRA on the phone; as an example, she pointed to one client who made a payment to the wrong account.
“The only way to change that is for her to call,” she said. “And she can’t get through. And there’s just little things like that all over the place.”
In an e-mailed statement, the CRA said extending the deadline would “risk interrupting essential credit and benefit payments for millions of Canadians.” Payment options have been expanded, the agency confirmed, but “taxpayers must file their tax returns by the deadline.”
Mr. Woolley’s petition has received more than half its goal of 150,000 signatures. Ms. le Nobel has signed it – as there are simply “more problems” this tax season.
“You’re having these people that are stressed out – there’s going to be errors,” she said. “It’s just going to compound things. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t give an extension this year when they did last year.”
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