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The program has drawn support from major accounting firms.Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press

Accountants in Ontario are hoping to make life a little simpler for front-line health-care workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by offering to prepare their taxes for free.

The initiative, organized by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario, is a way to remove one area of potential stress for some health-care workers, who are under so much strain fighting the outbreak, and probably don't want to think about tax returns, said association CEO Carol Wilding.

"I don't think it's something most people look forward to at the best of times, and when you see the frontline workers and their absolute exhaustion, we hope that this initiative would just give those frontline workers a little bit of relief."

The program has drawn support from major accounting firms and will cover a wide range of workers dealing directly with COVID-19 including nurses, paramedics, cleaning staff, lab technicians and other healthcare professionals.

It will also cover the returns for spouses and dependent children, as benefits often need to be co-ordinated between family members, said Wilding.

The program is not being offered to people who had last year’s returns completed by a CPA, and does not include more complex tax returns such as self-employment income or expenses, business or rental income and expenses or foreign property.

Given new tax initiatives and programs related to the outbreak, the program will hopefully also make it easier to navigate new options, Wilding said.

So far the program is limited to Ontario, but Wilding said she spoken with other associations in Canada in hopes of making the initiative more national.

Major accounting firms including KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst and Young, BDO, PwC Grant Thornton, MNP and others have volunteered to support the program with commitments ranging between 500 and 1,000 filings, but the association is also welcoming support from smaller firms and its 95,000 members.

PwC Canada CEO Nicolas Marcoux said the firm didn't have to think long before signing onto the program.

"These are unprecedented times... we thought that it was important that we support the community."

Many workers would probably do the filings on their own, but this hopefully frees up some time for them, said Marcoux.

"It's not about the cost, it's more about removing some stress...putting time back into their agendas because they're stretched doing what's important for society."

He said the firm would consider expanding the program to elsewhere in Canada, and he's also suggested to other PwC divisions internationally that they should consider something similar.

Healthcare workers can sign up for the program through the CPA Ontario site, and are asked to apply by May 15 so that accountants have enough time to process all of the requests.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story did not make clear the eligibility criteria for front-line health-care workers in order to receive free services from Ontario accountants.

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