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Answering complex tax queries requires in-depth experience

It is unsurprising that a recent evaluation showed some small businesses have been receiving inadequate information from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) call centre, as it takes years of experience to be able to properly answer questions on Canada's complex tax statutes, Canadian tax lawyer David J. Rotfleisch tells AdvocateDaily.com.

As The Globe and Mail notes, a recent report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) found that a number of small business owners are receiving incomplete or inaccurate answers when they contact the Canada Revenue Agency call centre.

CFIB employees across Canada placed 224 calls to the CRA call centre from the end of June to mid-July 2016 as part of a “secret shopper” evaluation to test the level of service provided by CRA agents.

Callers used four standardized questions that reflected common queries asked by business owners, including how to apply for GST/HST when providing a service in another province and how long companies need to keep old tax records, says the Globe.

Of the 224 calls, 157 made it through to a CRA agent and 69 per cent of callers received complete answers, says the CFIB survey. CFIB says 31 per cent of callers didn’t receive complete answers, with 23 per cent receiving incomplete information and eight per cent receiving incorrect information. When the federation last did the survey in 2012, 24 per cent of callers received incomplete or incorrect information.

But as Rotfleisch, founding tax lawyer at Rotfleisch & Samulovitch Professional Corporation, explains, CRA agents have never been a reliable source of information for taxpayers. 

“The Income Tax Act or Excise Tax Act for GST/HST are complex statutes and it requires years of in-depth experience to be able to properly answer questions.

“It is unrealistic to ever expect accurate answers from a CRA agent to tax queries,” adds Rotfleisch.

Among its recommendations, the report is calling for improved training for CRA call centre staff, including ensuring staff is knowledgeable and has the ability to provide correct information to callers, as well as “examples and guidelines to augment their responses.”

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