Last updated: May 16 2024

Symbiotic Relationships: Free Tax Clinics & Tax Pros

Did you know that CRA has spent close to $9 million on its Community Volunteer Income Tax Programs?  CVITP grants have been providing in 3700 funding agreements to community organizations that offer free tax clinics.  There is a natural symbiotic referral relationship between certified tax pros and the non-for-profit volunteers, who must pass on more complex returns and returns for those with higher incomes. Knowledge Bureau can help by providing training at special rates to volunteers who wish to upskill with professional certification.

Who Uses Free Volunteer-based Tax Services?  Surprisingly the number is large. Close to 760,000 Canadians have received $2 Billion in tax refunds using free “tax clinics”  from qualifying organizations that are charities, non-profit or community groups with at least 2 volunteers. 

Client Profiles.  At least 10 tax returns must be filed for clients with the following profiles.

  • adults 65 years and older
  • housing-insecure individuals
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • modest-income individuals (see below)
  • newcomers
  • persons with disabilities
  • students and youth

Who Can Host the Clinics? Eligible organizations must host free tax clinics and file income tax returns electronically for clients through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) or through the Income Tax Assistance – Volunteer Program(external link) (ITAVP). A registration process and filing number is assigned.

Income Levels.  The government defines a modest income for these purposes to mean the total family income is less than or equal to the amount shown in the chart below, based on the size of the family (an individual, or a couple and their dependants).

 Family size

 Total family income

 1 person


 2 people


 3 people


 4 people


 5 people


 More than 5 people

 $52,500, plus $2,500 for each additional person

Simple returns only.  The government does not provide training or support for individuals for more complex filing situations such as self employment income or employment expenses, rental property income, interest over $1000, capital gains or losses, bankruptcy or final returns for the deceased taxpayer or in general, situations in which there is foreign income reporting.   It suggests that volunteers should not prepare these returns.  Rather, they define a simple returns to be instances where there is no income or income from:

  • employment
  • pension,
  • benefits, such as the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, disability insurance, employment insurance, and social assistance
  • Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs)
  • scholarships, fellowships, bursaries, or grants
  • interest (under $1,000)

Remuneration: The government will pay a base amount and a supplementary amount to the community based organizations to do the returns, as follows:

Base Amounts:

10-49 returns:                     $500

50 or more returns:             $1500

Supplemental amounts:

  • $250 for organizations that serve Indigenous communities
  • $250 for organizations that operate in Northern communities
  • $250 for organizations that operate in rural and remote communities
  • $5 per tax return filed

A great opportunity for continuity.   “Simple” returns can often turn out to be quite complex quickly. Consider someone who has low income now, but has owed money to CRA in the past, and is now subject to collection actions.  Or someone who must take on several side gigs (self-employment income) to make ends meet.

While there is no funding help for the professionals who must step in to prepare returns in more complex cases, there is an opportunity to help.  These dedicated pros file 59.7% of all returns which so far have generated $35,414,077,934 in refunds (average $2126 as of May 6) and $46,331,376,689 in balances due (average $7137).  

Make a Difference.  Filing tax returns is an essential financial service.  An offseason meeting with community tax clinic hosts, can enable introductions of clients who need more substantial services for more complex returns.  It may also prove to be a great opportunity for cross referrals with regard to people who may qualify for the free services. 

Knowledge Bureau - A special training program for volunteers.  With regard to training, community volunteers who wish to do more complex returns for their clients aside from working in the free clinics, may earn certification from Knowledge Bureau, which will provide a special Community Volunteer Services Rate.  Just provide verification that you were a volunteer to qualify Note that the government further supplements this training with the tuition fee credit and Canada Training Credit. Inquire at 1.866.953.4769.