John Brownlee does his taxes the old-fashioned way: on paper. This year was no different.
The Winnipeg senior got his forms handled and filed in early March, but he’s yet to receive a notice of assessment or a refund.
He played a little telephone tag with the Canada Revenue Agency, eventually being told the office that handles paper returns had been closed March 16 due to novel coronavirus restrictions. He isn't angry, but he is concerned others who file via snail mail — many of them seniors — could be in the same boat.
The Free Press contacted the CRA, and a media relations representative admitted the 10 per cent of Canadians who file their taxes on paper can expect "significant delays."
"We recognize that Canadians have diverse needs when it comes to return filing," wrote Pamela Tourigny. "However, it is important to note that COVID-19 measures are currently in place to help ensure the health and safety of our employees, such as limiting the number of employees on-site to support physical distancing in all our offices, including our tax centres."
Paper returns are currently being processed at those centres, but staffing reductions mean delays are likely for filers waiting for notices of assessments or refunds.
As a temporary measure, the CRA is allowing Canadians who filed a 2019 tax year paper return that has yet to be processed to also file a return electronically. That measure was put in place April 20, as a means of reducing delays.
Meanwhile, for the majority of Canadians who use electronic filing, Tourigny said the agency is "on track" to issue notices and refunds within two weeks of receiving a return. Direct deposits online could be made in as few as eight business days, she said.
While tax season generally adheres to a strict calendar, the CRA has made other adjustments owing to the difficulties of COVID-19.
The deadline to file individual income tax and benefit returns has been extended from April 30 to June 1, and the deadline to pay any balance due for the individual income tax and benefit return has been extended until September; no penalties or interest will be assessed if their balance is paid by Sept. 1.
Last week, the agency said eligible Canadians receiving GST/HST credit or the Canada child benefit will continue to receive those payments until September, even for recipients unable to file their 2019 returns on time. And the federal government is temporarily extending its guaranteed income supplement and allowance payments for seniors, if their 2019 income information hasn’t been assessed.
The option for paper filers to file online may not address all situations "since not all taxpayers are able to file their returns electronically," Tourigny said. For that reason, she said the agency will process paper returns on a priority basis while public health directives reduce overall processing capacity.