CRA puts focus on paper returns as tax-filing season opens

OTTAWA — The Canada Revenue Agency is sending an unlikely message to kick off tax season: Paper-filers, we have not forgotten you.

Despite a years-long push to have more people file taxes online because it's generally faster and easier, many Canadians still prefer putting pen, or pencil, to paper.

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The people who prefer paper to online are getting particular attention because they tend to be Canadians whose tax files are needed to send them essential benefit payments.

There are seniors who need old-age security, parents eligible for the Canada Child Benefit and first-time filers who might be eligible for a new benefit for low-income workers.

Because of that, the CRA has made changes to the paper tax booklet to further simplify language, add notes about new benefits for the 2019 tax year, and include a checklist so nothing gets missed.

Frank Vermaeten, the CRA's assistant commissioner, said the agency wants to make sure those who prefer paper are still comfortable using it amid wider pushes to electronic filing.

"Certainly, we promote electronic filing — we see a lot of benefits for Canadians in doing that, but we also want to be sure that paper filers are served and served well," Vermaeten said in an interview.

The federal tax collector expects to handle about two million paper returns this calendar year out of roughly 26 million filings.

Even at the current rate people are shifting to digital filing and away from paper, Vermaeten said the CRA could see paper files for another 20 years.

The agency's tax machine fired up in earnest Monday, with new staff joining call centres that run at extended hours.

About 1.6 million printed tax-return booklets are also being mailed out that include an option for some to file by phone if their incomes are largely unchanged from year to year, such as seniors.

Staff have also been hired to manage paper filers, including a team that searches for errors and corrects them.

Vermaeten said a new service will see staff input forgotten T4 slips, for instance, on paper returns filed before the deadline, to save taxpayers interest penalties.

The deadline to file taxes without penalty is the end of April, and the CRA will be processing returns through to June — just as it starts planning for tax season next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2020.

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