Some accountants who specialize in preparing personal income tax forms are calling for Ottawa to extend the April 30 filing deadline.
To illustrate why, Vicki Burgess points out the instrumental music in the background.
“That’s Revenue Canada on hold. It plays here probably half of every day,” said Burgess of Burgess Kilpatrick, a small accounting firm in east Vancouver.
In a normal year, her calls to the Canada Revenue Agency to clarify information for a client would take 20 minutes. This year, she might finally get “on hold” at 9 a.m., wait, get transferred, and then have to repeat before landing something around 3 p.m.
And that’s just one thing that’s abnormal, she said.
“Long ago, we used to sort of brag by sending our staff home at 3 o’clock on April 30. And in more recent years, it’s more like 5 or 6 o’clock. We have never had to work until midnight on April 30. We’re pretty organized. And I’m saying, I don’t think we can do it this year.”
Last year, the deadline for filing was extended to May 31 and late payment penalties were suspended until September. This year, Ottawa has said there are no plans to extend deadlines again. There are financial penalties for filing late and some benefits can be withheld.
About a week ago, prominent Vancouver income tax consultant Hugh Woolley started a petition on Change.org after his firm started hearing from smaller accounting firms that hire his to help with their higher level tax projects, such as estate planning and the purchase and sales of businesses.
Some 55,000 people have signed it. He estimates the first few thousand who signed the petition are people at accounting firms that prepare tax returns and then the others are people who do their own.
“Many expressed that things were much worse than last year when there was a lengthy extension,” said Woolley.
Being on hold with the Canada Revenue Agency for hours, as Burgess described, has become standard. As well, many accountants are still locked out of their online CRA accounts after it was a victim of a massive cyberattack last August. The issuing for tax slips this year was later due to more reporting required. Also, many clients may have computers and email access, but not necessarily the scanners needed to get digitized forms and receipts to accountants instead of delivering them in person.
Woolley said not all accounting firms want an extension. The major accounting firms focus on auditing big public companies rather than preparing personal tax returns, “so they are ambivalent.” Some firms are opposed to an extension because “they think it’s going to either ruin their summer or it’s going to impact the corporate work,” and they mostly have clients with scanners at home.
“It’s really the little guy (firm) that doesn’t have a huge voice,” said Woolley.
The petition is proposing an extension to June 15, but even a two-week extension or some relief from the penalties would help, said Burgess.
Woolley noticed the “vast majority that seemed overwhelmed with the pending deadline were women who worked as either sole proprietors or in smaller firms. I shared this with other organizations and they confirmed it was consistent with their feedback.”
Burgess said at her firm, “we have 10 of us working here. One is my partner who is a man and everybody else is women.”
“A lot of them have children in school and we’ve constantly had somebody off because there’s a (COVID) case in the baby’s daycare or there’s a case at school or people have families with (other) work exposures. There’s always someone missing, and then we’ve had two staff members lose fathers-in-law. These are deaths in our community, not just numbers on a page.”