“You’re in this for the long haul”
It should come as no surprise, then, that I felt defeated when a government-issued T4A, for illegitimate income I had already worked for more than a year to clear from my file, appeared at my doorstep last July.
On the phone with the CRA shortly afterwards, I was told not to worry; the slip had evidently been issued in error. The person encouraged me to check back in a while to be sure it had been fixed. A follow-up call a month later left me exasperated. “You’re in this for the long haul,” this particular representative explained, when I asked, “How long?” As I write this, a T4A for 2020 CERB benefits continues to stare me in the face every time I log into my CRA account.
My experience may lead you to believe fixing a tax discrepancy with the CRA is largely out of your control. But that’s not true. There are steps you can take to make your life easier, should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
Rebecca Hett, vice-president of tax, retirement and estate planning at CI Global Asset Management in Calgary, says I was right to contact the CRA early. There’s no advantage in waiting when it comes to raising an issue like tax fraud.
As important as it is to act quickly, Hett cautions against making any hasty decisions. Before claiming income you never received, she recommends speaking directly with someone from the CRA. “It is always better to start with a phone call, because you do get real people on the other end of the line who are very reasonable,” she says. “And they appreciate it when a taxpayer is taking the initiative to resolve matters appropriately.”
Then it’s a matter of following up. Unless otherwise directed by the CRA during your initial conversation, you should typically wait two to three weeks before calling back. Then, at that time, ask if submitting a letter would be appropriate, advises Hett. If so, it’s important to ask how it should be sent and to whom. Ideally, letters and supporting documents should be sent through your online CRA account, which houses a portal for submitting documents. Hett says this is the fastest and most accurate way to share information with the agency. It also guarantees you’ll receive a reference number you can use to track your request.
After that, it’s a question of having “patience, patience, patience,” Hett says. Delays are likely, if not inevitable, when dealing with bureaucracy. But do yourself a favour and try to phone ahead of the busy January-to-April tax period—or expect your patience to be tested even more.
I’ve also learned it helps to take detailed notes after every interaction with the CRA—and to review them regularly. The agency’s representatives are trained to document your calls, but you won’t have easy access to this information. And as time passes, it gets really easy to forget what’s happened. Reviewing my notes for this story, I found that, before she changed roles, my original CRA contact gave me a direct number for the validation and identity protection service, which would have spared me from calling the general CRA line. Why didn’t I use it? At some point, I simply forgot she’d given it to me.