How to Improve Service Levels: Tax Pros Give Advice to CRA

On the heels of recent criticisms by the Auditor General, Knowledge Bureau Report readers weighed in on CRA service levels and they were conclusive: 87% of last month’s poll respondents say that the CRA needs to work harder. They cited a myriad of issues from 32-week wait times for a T1 Adjustment to the need to correct CRA’s errors, some of them big. 

This, despite the CRA’s Serving You Better initiative for small business and the Business Enquiry line’s move to an improved telephone platform. Tax and financial professionals largely agree that more work needs to be done. In fact, when we asked our readers the question, “Have you noticed that CRA is starting to increase its service levels for you and your small business clients?”, a mere 13% answered “yes.” And some very insightful comments give us a glimpse at what the other 87% believe still needs to be addressed.

Most comments pointed to three categories of issues: 1) Access to agents (2) knowledge of agents when reached3) implications of increased audit activity, including lengthy processing times.

Derrick points out that the CRA’s new automated system has reduced accessibility to CRA agents: “It seems like service levels have declined, definitely as far as individuals are concerned. In Ontario we used to be able to call the 800 number with client inquiries from about 8:30 am to 7:00 pm and reach an agent. Now, that has been cut back to 9:00-5:00 ET. Outside of those hours there is limited help on an automated system that provides no more information than is available online.”

Jacquie says that lack of staff education remains an issue at the CRA: “I have not noticed any ‘step up’ of service. If anything, it is business as usual for CRA. Some of the staff are wonderful, but the CRA hires students (this info was relayed by CRA) to post their data (usually assessments, interest and penalties) and mistakes run rampant. I am not talking about small posting errors; these errors are costing small businesses thousands of dollars. I know because I have experienced this time and time again. CRA just had to reverse a HUGE amount of money, from an account, for one of my new clients, because I caught the error. It is one thing to hire students to do a job, and another to train them properly and double check the work!”

Frank simply states: “Service means you are offering real help, advice and knowledge to your customers. In my opinion, that word ’service’ becomes something else at the CRA.”

Geordie does note some positive improvements, but highlights additional issues: “Well, it depends on how you qualify service. Going from four hours to get to an agent to two hours? Then, yes. Having more agents who can actually help? Yes, again. Needing 32+ weeks for Winnipeg to do a T1 ADJ? Not good. Having CRA close files without updating the client or the rep, with no notes, so four months in you have to start another eight-month process? Still not good. Needing to file a service complaint every two weeks since CRA cannot get things done, or done correctly? Sigh. Needing to correct CRA’s mistakes, incorrect reassessments and training the agents on how to read the ITA (since their team leaders don’t seem to be training the staff correctly)? Not sure why it’s our problem to fix the CRA.”

Karyn says that businesses are forced to put unnecessary resources into addressing CRA errors: “Absolutely NOT! In fact, I agree with the other comments that service is deteriorating, not improving. It is more frustrating than ever, dealing with CRA and their agents. Time-wise and knowledge-based. They must have the proper qualifications to do the job, understand the questions that are being asked of them, plus understand the way Canadian business is operated and how to implement proper transfers and payments. The list goes on and on. I’ve spent numerous hours fixing the CRA’s mistakes, simply because they didn’t know what they were doing. Crummy that we as bookkeepers/tax preparers have to charge our clients to manage CRA mistakes.”

Margaret says that even with the phone system improvements, it’s still hard to reach an agent: “It sometimes can take a couple of hours to get through to someone who can assist. A client and myself have tried for two days to get through; the line is continuously busy and you’re requested to try back later. So sadly, no, there is absolutely no improvement.”

Pat agrees: “It is not improving at all. I call in, get the recording that everyone is busy and redial. After about 20 redials, I finally get through only to be transferred to someone with the capabilities to answer the question. Half the time, the call gets dropped during the transfer or no one is available so I get to start all over again. Each call usually consumes about an hour of my time — mostly spent on hold!”

Dan says that processing times remain an issue: “Glad I am not the only one experiencing these issues. Twice I’ve had to contact the Ombudsman this year due to gross negligence on the part of CRA, regarding undue delays in processing client tax returns. This was after I contacted the CRA complaint department who sat on their hands. I can’t believe we are paying these people good money for this service. There are many EASY fixes they can do, but it starts at the top to make this happen.”

Gerry says the CRA won’t grant extensions, even despite the increased audit requests: “Not at all. In fact, with the surge in small business audits, it is getting hard to speak to auditors, and there is little or no consideration for extensions due to the increased number of audit requests.”

Alice points out the impacts of the CRA’s increased audit activity: “I totally disagree regarding better service. Unless they consider all the reviews and audits better service. Their timing on these reviews is absolutely ridiculous. We are getting requests for more information for the tax returns at a higher amount than in the past. And the time of year is ridiculous. The time spent on these reviews by the tax preparer cannot be billed to anyone. So that is time wasted. I have one client who has been sent a bill that he was not even aware of from 20 years ago. I was not aware that they could go back that far unless there were given reasons found in recent returns. This client has been on a disability benefit for over 10 years. Another waste of time. So how many other taxpayers are having this happen? With all the time that Revenue Canada seems to wasting on these types of things how can they have any time to give better service? I must say that I feel for the employees at CRA, as they are the ones that end up taking all the flak for this.”

Rachel says that changes at the CRA have been noticed, but that it’s not making much of a positive impact: “Unfortunately, NO... CRA has changed, but not seeing much positive. Many months to process adjustments, move payments, etc. Ridiculous time delays in reviews. I understand more resources are going to audits but the everyday basics are not getting better. The website is better than it was four years ago… not great but better. But I wish we could see all correspondence sent to clients and wish we could TRACK the progress on things submitted as clients are constantly looking for updates. We are end of November and pre-assessment reviews from April are still not processed!”

Gerry says businesses are forced to abide by unrealistic timelines with audit activity: “Generally no, unless you mean more audits being undertaken. The agents are more interested in meeting the 30-day limit rather that understanding the one-man shops who have to deal with two or three audits at the same time, not taking into consideration client holidays or ours.”

Doris says that some professionals are forced to contend with a new policy that has been put in place: “There has been a change in policy from Ottawa that tax preparers are not to be contacted, rather the taxpayer is to be contacted directly. This is a policy, not an individual tax centre decision or a department decision. The issue I have with this policy is two-fold: 1) tax preparers were not informed of this change (unless I missed a letter or email); and, 2) our clients have been told that we are following up on any outstanding requests. Therefore, they ignore the letters because we TOLD them that we would handle it. I even experienced this situation with my own son. I checked online on both his SIN and Represent a Client. Nowhere is the letter to be found!”

Finally, Ann proposes some solutions that would help the CRA address the issues surrounding business service standards: “CRA has enhanced its website for the taxpayer but has not made it any easier for the business owner to manage their accounts with CRA. An account was in the hands of one agent who lost documents and disregarded the fax confirmation with phone and date that it was sent. Until it was in the hands of another agent who handled an audit only to accept the faxed lost documents and reverse the penalties.

Going in and freezing or draining business owners’ accounts is not a solution either; yes, it draws attention to the business owner, but also causes more hardship for them and their families. CRA should have more field agents who make themselves available to the business owner, hold more info sessions on filing requirements, be more involved as a government to work with the business owner to make them more successful with understanding their filing obligations. Have a service for the business owner in person! Help the business owner out! Talk with them, sit with them, help them be more successful. This only happens when business accounts are in the arrears.

Many business account payments are not posted to the correct account and I have requested many times on behalf of clients to transfer funds to the correct account. Or they received funds and CRA held it as they are not sure which account to post it, a call out to the representative or owner is needed. Their online service is very outdated. And there is no in-person service to the business owner unless they are in arrears.
We have many, many small business owners who have the skill and talent to generate sales from their craft, hire people, and help their local community, but they lack the knowledge on their filing obligations with CRA. CRA has removed themselves from being available as a go-to, open to the public. We are here to help and learn. Business service is not where it should be.”

Thank you to everyone who participated in last month’s poll. This month, we’d like to hear your thoughts on the following: “Do you agree with Finance Canada’s proposal to allow a charitable donation credit for gifts to non-profit journalism organizations in 2019?”

Additional educational resources: Canadian business owners need tax advice and assistance from professionals, now more than ever, in light of these CRA issues. Become a DFA – Tax Services Specialist and get the credentials you need to make a difference.



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