CRA watchdog finds agency taking weeks to process some claims for recovery benefits

OTTAWA — The Canada Revenue Agency is being taken to task by a federal watchdog for not being as up front as it should be over how long it might take to process applications for pandemic aid.

The $500-a-week Canada Recovery Benefit is paid out by the agency to qualifying workers who have earned at least $5,000 in the preceding 12 months.

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In most cases, the application process is quick, but in others, the agency has to do additional digging to verify eligibility.

The taxpayers' ombudsperson said his office has received complaints that CRA call-centre agents can't offer a timeline for when verification work will be done, leaving thousands in financial hardship.

Francois Boileau said taxpayers should be able to have more details on how long it will take the agency to verify documents so they can plan how to cover their bills like rent.

He said complaints to his office have said the agency can take up to 10 weeks to finish the process before issuing a payment.

The process differs from one that was used one year ago for the CRB's forerunner, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Applications were quickly approved and payments issued with the government opting to do a review after-the-fact to recoup improper payments.

With the CRB, the government pushed that verification to the front of the application process, including asking for pay slips or records of employment if the agency couldn't easily confirm that someone met the earnings threshold.

Once the documents came in, the agency started the clock.

In March, there were complaints that it could take four to six weeks for the process to play out.

More recently, it has risen to eight to 10 weeks.

The agency had differing timelines referenced on different parts of its website, but updated them to in recent days after Boileau suggested the CRA do so.

"The CRA understands that the longer processing times for these recovery benefit applications may place a financial burden on Canadians who depend on these benefits as income replacement," the agency said in a statement.

"In some cases, processing times may be extended for unforeseeable reasons."

The CRA says the process shouldn't be nearly as long for anyone who filed their 2020 tax return, which would easily let the agency verify income eligibility when an application rolls in.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.

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