How To File A "Service Complaint" Against The Canada Revenue Agency

In writing this blog post, we are not advocating filing baseless, frivolous, vexatious and retaliatory "service complaints" against Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") auditors, collections officers and other employees of the CRA. However, we have learned from the experience of our clients that some legitimate complaints arise from time-to-time.  It is in the spirit of transparency and openness that we have decided to write about the CRA service complaints process.  Before we give this information to you, we ask one thing - when you write a service complaint, do not do so in anger.  Take your time to be fair.  After you write the service complaint, do not press "send" right away.  Print what you have written and put it in a drawer for 24 hours.  Then read the service complaint again and make any changes that you feel are warranted and appropriate.  If you send a fair service complaint that is factual, rather than emotional, you increase the chances that the reader will address your concerns.  I have been informed that all service complaints are reviewed and taken seriously.

There is a form for "Service Complaints" about CRA employees. You must complete an RC193 "Service Related Complaint" form.  The form asks for your information - service complaints cannot be made anonymously.  The reason why service complaints cannot be anonymous is that the CRA has to review the alleged treatment of a particular taxpayer and conduct an internal review of the contents of the complaint.  However, service complaints may be filed on your behalf by a representative, such as a lawyer, accountant, bookkeeper, consultant, etc.

The form requires the taxpayer filing the service complaint to describe the actions of the CRA employee giving rise to the service complaint and state the action the taxpayer wishes the CRA to take.

There are many legitimate reasons why a taxpayer may file a service complaint against an employee of the CRA.  The first place to start is the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" and RC17 "Taxpayer Bill of Rights Guide: Understanding your rights as a taxpayer".  The next document to consider when completing a service complaint is the CRA's "Service Standards 2016-2017". The CRA has also prepared a publication on "Complaints and Disputes".  You may also wish to consult your accountant, lawyer or bookkeeper to assist you with the drafting of the service complaint.

For example, if an auditor is acting in a biased manner towards the taxpayer, the taxpayer should make a statement that they are being treated in a biased manner, present the facts in support of the claim and make a requested action, such as the replacement of the auditor with another auditor.  It is not possible to ask that the taxpayer never be audited.  But it is reasonable to request another auditor.

For example, if the auditor does not seem to understand the legal issues involved in the file and fails to consider the issues, you should ask for a meeting with a Team Leader.  If the auditor refuses to arrange a meeting with his/her Team Leader, you should file a service complaint.  The basis for the complaint would be the lack of knowledge and the refusal to arrange a meeting with a Team Leader.  The concern would be that the auditor is not communicating with others within the CRA and using appropriate resources.  It is not uncommon for new auditors to be "in over their heads" when dealing with new and complex issues.  It can be beneficial to raise these issues in order to keep the audit on track and to minimize the risk of the auditor making incorrect assessments.

After the complaint is written, put it away for a day and make appropriate revisions.  The service complaint may be submitted to the CRA electronically (through My Business Account), by fax or by mail. See the Submissions options.

We have filed service complaints on behalf of our clients.  Normally, we receive a letter within a few weeks acknowledging receipt by the CRA of the complaint.  The complaint is forwarded to the Tax Services Office most closely connected to the service complaint.  In every file in which we filed the service complaint, we have received a telephone call about the service complaint.  In every case, there was a requirement that the CRA employee respond to a supervisor who was looking into the service complaint.  In every file, we received a response from the CRA about the steps to be taken.  In every case, the service complaints were taken seriously. In most cases, the matter was resolved satisfactorily.  This is because we were reasonable in how we discussed the issues and were reasonable in what actions were requested.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or email cyndee@lexsage.com.

Taxpayer Interest And Penalty Relief: How Can A Taxpayer Get Some Relief?

Canadian taxpayers are entitled to apply to the Canada Revenue Agency for taxpayer relief of penalties and interest.  All that is required is for a taxpayer who has been assessed to complete and submit an RC4288 form "Request for Taxpayer Relief - Cancel or Waive Penalties and Interest".  This form can be used for goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") relief in addition to income tax.

The form is relatively simple - however, the devil is in the details.  Section 2 is very important and any taxpayer seeking a significant amount of relief should take care in writing the reasons for the request for relief.  We often prepare a separate document providing the facts and reasons why relief should be granted - we do not limit the written communication to the form.  We also attach relevant documents to show transparency and openness.

It is important to understand that relief is not guaranteed.  While the CRA has broad discretion to grant relief, they also have broad discretion to deny relief. The CRA provides limited information about when they will grant penalty and interest relief.  The CRA indicates that the Minister of National Revenue may grant relief from penalty or interest when the following types of situations prevent a taxpayer from meeting their tax obligations:

  • extraordinary circumstances:  Penalties or interest may be cancelled or waived in whole or in part when they result from circumstances beyond a taxpayer's control. Extraordinary circumstances that may have prevented a taxpayer from making a payment when due, filing a return on time, or otherwise complying with a tax obligation include, but are not limited to, the following examples:
    • natural or human-made disasters, such as a flood or fire;
    • civil disturbances or disruptions in services, such as a postal strike;
    • serious illness or accident; and
    • serious emotional or mental distress, such as death in the immediate family;
  • actions of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA): The CRA may also cancel or waive penalties or interest when they result primarily from CRA actions, including:
    • processing delays that result in taxpayers not being informed, within a reasonable time, that an amount was owing;
    • errors in CRA material which led a taxpayer to file a return or make a payment based on incorrect information;
    • incorrect information provided to a taxpayer by the CRA;
    • errors in processing;
    • delays in providing information, resulting in taxpayers not being able to meet their tax obligations in a timely manner; and
    • undue delays in resolving an objection or an appeal, or in completing an audit;
  • inability to pay or financial hardship:  The CRA may, in circumstances where there is a confirmed inability to pay amounts owing, consider waiving or cancelling interest in whole or in part to enable taxpayers to pay their account. For example, this could occur when:
    • a collection has been suspended because of an inability to pay caused by the loss of employment and the taxpayer is experiencing financial hardship;
    • a taxpayer is unable to conclude a payment arrangement because the interest charges represent a significant portion of the payments; or
    • payment of the accumulated interest would cause a prolonged inability to provide basic necessities (financial hardship) such as food, medical help, transportation, or shelter; consideration may be given to cancelling all or part of the total accumulated interest; and
  • other circumstances: The CRA may also grant relief if a taxpayer's circumstances do not fall within the situations described above.

The CRA is working to improve its procedures for dealing with Requests for Taxpayer Relief. When a completed form is filed with the supporting documentation, the CRA should send a letter to the requester acknowledging receipt of the Request for Taxpayer Relief.  The file should be assigned to a CRA officer and the taxpayer should receive requests for relevant documentation (unless a full set of relevant documents is provided with the Request for Taxpayer Relief).

If the taxpayer gets a decision that is not favourable - it happens often - then there is the ability to request an impartial review of the CRA officer's decision by the CRA (not the same CRA officer who rejected the request).

If the review procedure ends in a rejection of the requested relief, it is possible to seek a review by the Federal Court of Appeal by way of a judicial review.  However, judicial reviews often are an expensive legal procedure and can cost tens of thousands of dollars (even hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases depending on the complexity of the issues). There have been judicial review applications filed and the Federal Court of Appeal has in some cases sided with the taxpayer.

I will be honest with you - the Request for Taxpayer Relief Program can be frustrating for persons seeking relief. That does not mean it is not worth the effort and one should not try. Just know that you may feel like you are still stuck in the mud while pursuing a process that may take time.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or at cyndee@lexsage.com.  We have many useful articles about tax audits under Free Information - Sales Tax, Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and Goods and Services Tax (GST) Articles.

15 Stages Of A Canada Revenue Agency GST/HST Audit

If you have never been audited before, you probably have no idea what to expect.  Most audits follow the same 15 stages (more or less).  On the taxpayer's side of things, each stage is stressful.

  1. CRA Selection Process:  The taxpayer usually has no involvement in this process.  It all happens behind the scenes and the taxpayer can only guess why their name was selected. Sometimes the taxpayer is randomly selected.  Sometimes the taxpayer is selected as a result of the industry segment in which they operate.  Sometimes the taxpayer is selected because of something in a filing with the CRA.  Sometimes the taxpayer is selected because of a tip made to the CRA.
  2. The Audit Letter: The taxpayer receives a letter from the CRA notifying them that they are to be audited. Normally, the taxpayer is asked to contact the CRA auditor.  However, sometimes the auditor just shows up at the business premises.
  3. The CRA letter requesting certain documents:  Usually the CRA auditor will send to the taxpayer a letter indicating what documents need to be provided before the initial meeting at the taxpayer's premises or what documents must be available for the first day of the audit.
  4. Initial Meeting:  If the audit occurs at the taxpayer's premises, the auditor will have a meeting at the start of the audit.  The auditor explains what is expected during the audit.  The taxpayer should also communicate to the auditor what is expected.  The taxpayer may indicate that the auditor must deal with a specific person so that the entire organization does not end up working for the auditor.
  5. Fieldwork:  The on-site audit is the fieldwork stage.  The fieldwork can take place over a few days or over a lengthy period of time.
  6. Office work: Usually the auditor will take information back to the CRA offices and work on the audit from the CRA premises.
  7. Follow-up questions: It is common for the CRA auditor to contact the taxpayer after the fieldwork stage of the audit. Sometimes additional documents are requested.  Sometimes additional questions are asked.
  8. Preliminary Report: The CRA auditor will prepare a proposal and send it to the taxpayer for comment.  Usually a proposed assessment number is provided to the taxpayer.
  9. Response Letter: The taxpayer has an opportunity to change the minds of the CRA.  This is the best opportunity to stop an incorrect assessment from being issued.
  10. Notice of Re-assessment: The CRA auditor sends to the taxpayer the Notice of Reassessment setting out how much is being assessed.
  11. CRA Collections: As of the date of the Notice of Re-assessment, a debt is due to Her Majesty.  CRA Collections may start collection activities immediately after the Notice of Re-Assessment is issued.
  12. Notice of Objection: If a taxpayer disagrees with a Notice of Re-Assessment, the taxpayer can file a Notice of Objection.
  13. Objection: The taxpayer will communicate with a CRA Appeals Officer and the re-assessment will either be confirmed, amended to reversed.
  14. Notice of Appeal: Assuming that not all the issues are addressed in the objection stage, a taxpayer may file an appeal with the Tax Court of Canada.
  15. Day in Tax Court: A taxpayer will have their day(s) in the Tax Court of Canada if the appeal is not settled.  A Tax Court judge will listen to the parties and render a judgement.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or at cyndee@lexsage.com.  We have many useful articles about tax audits under Free Information - Sales Tax, Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and Goods and Services Tax (GST) Articles.

Make A List And Check It Twice: Record All Information Provided To A CRA Auditor

One of the most common mistakes we see taxpayers make during a Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") audit is that they do not record what documents were requested by the auditor, what documents were provided to the auditor, and when those documents were provided to the auditor.  What is common is that documents are requested by the CRA auditor and the taxpayer is so nervous and anxious about the audit that they run around providing everything that is asked without making a list.  The taxpayer wants the audit to happen so quickly (so the auditor will leave) that they do not take time to think about how best to protect themselves.  What could go wrong during an audit?

We have seen cases where the CRA auditor forgets that they did not ask for something, but says it was never provided.  Accusations are easily made against a taxpayer and are sometimes used to justify an arbitrary assessment.  When you have a list, you have evidence that the CRA auditor did not ask for the document or was provided the document.  If you diligently make the list, the CRA auditor may have to think twice about how you should be treated - you are acting professionally and diligently.

We have seen many things happen during CRA audits over the years.  We have seen cases where the CRA auditor asks for documents and loses the documents.  This has happened in too many files. The worst case I remember happened many years ago during an Ontario provincial sales tax audit.  A Ministry of Finance auditor asked a taxpayer for a USB key with all the companies bookkeeping records and was provided with all of the taxpayer's books and records.  After a few months had passed, the auditor admitted to the taxpayer that he had lost the USB key and had no idea where it could be.  The auditor had to ask for the information again and the taxpayer was uncomfortable providing another USB key for obvious reasons.  The auditor had to admit his error because the taxpayer had a list and he had initialed that he had received the USB key.

Recently, a CRA GST/HST appeals officer informed us that no documents provided during the audit had been uploaded in the system and he could not get the auditor's files.  He took the position that our client had not provided the documents. We were asked to provided all the documents again (which amounted to a number of boxes). Luckily, we had the list and we kept copies of all documents that had been provided in audit binders.  When each document was provided, three copies were made.  One copy was made for the CRA auditor, one copy was made for the audit binder and one copy was made for the scanned electronic record.  All documents were stamped confidential before being copied. We were able to provide the list and all the documents within 48 hours.

In another file, the CRA GST/HST auditor started an input tax credit audit and spend months looking through invoices and purchase documents.  The audit changed courses after many months and many requests for documents. An arbitrary assessment was issued because a limitation period was about to expire. We had been preparing the list and keeping copies of the documents.  When we performed the same audit on the same documents, the assessment was almost zero.  We filed a notice of objection and eventually the appeals officer received our analysis.  The objection was successful because we were able to show that we had a list of documents provided and what the correct analysis of those documents showed.

We have developed a template Audit List for taxpayers to use during audits.  This is the same template that we give our clients who ask us to help them during the audit process.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or at cyndee@lexsage.com.  We have many useful articles about tax audits under Free Information - Sales Tax, Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and Goods and Services Tax (GST) Articles.

11 Tips For Small Business Owners For Keeping Canada Revenue Agency Collections Officers Happy

Recently, I was contacted by a small business owner who had an unpleasant conversation with a Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") collections officer about an outstanding goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax ("GST/HST") assessment against his small company (of which he was a director).  The CRA collections officer had threatened to send the sheriff to his house that very day to seize personal assets.  When I called the CRA collections officer, she suggested to me that she merely discussed the director's liability process to the small business owner.  What because clear to me is that the CRA was not clear in what was said because the lack of clarity could result in payments against the outstanding debt.  The CRA collections officer was deliberately attempting to make the small business owner fearful.

However, what was actually happening is that the CRA collection officer had completed a direction to the sheriff to determine the assets of the reassessed corporation.  If the sheriff prepares a "No Assets" report, then the CRA could issue a director's liability assessment under section 323 of the Excise Tax Act. Only after the CRA issues a director's liability assessment against the small business owner could the CRA ask the sheriff to seize personal assets.  The problem in this case was that the address provided by the small business owner for the business was his home address.  It was for that reason that the sheriff would come to the home to determine if the corporation has assets that could be seized.

What needed to be done was satisfactorily resolve the corporation's GST/HST reassessment issues.  The following are tips to keep the CRA collections officer happy and away from personal assets from the small business owner.

1. Do not use your home address as your business address.  If you have an operating business and a business location that is not your home, use that address for communications with the CRA.  If the CRA collections officer issues a direction to the sheriff to prepare an assets report, the sheriff would go to the business address.

2. See if you can enter into a payment arrangement with the CRA to satisfy the corporation's debt.  The best way to avoid a director's liability claim is to make sure there are sufficient assets in the corporation.  The payment arrangement usually will be acceptable is it covers 6-24 months (that is you give post-dated cheques to pay the debt over time).

3. If you have a payment arrangement and have provided cheques to the CRA collections officer, you may provide proof of such arrangement to the sheriff.  The sheriff usually takes this into consideration when preparing an assets report.  If the assets report does not state that there are no assets, the CRA may not be able to issue a director's liability claim (depends on the facts).

4. If you enter into a payment arrangement, ensure there are sufficient funds in the account to pay the cheques.  If a cheque is returned NSF (not sufficient funds), then the CRA collections officer will look at other options to get the money.

5. During the period of the payment arrangement, make sure you are up-to-date on all CRA filings and payments (including GST/HST, income tax, payroll taxes, etc).  CRA collections officers are nervous fellows and gals and they will get concerned if the debts of the corporation start increasing.  This means that the cheques they have no longer cover the outstanding liability and that the outstanding liability will not get paid.

6. While the company is paying off the debt, apply for interest relief.  If the CRA accepts your interest relief request, your outstanding debt will decrease. Every little bit helps.

7. While the company is paying off the debt, if you are able to make a significant payment, do so.  This stops the interest clock on the amount you paid.

8. If you have nothing to hide (and even if you do have something to hide), be honest with the CRA collections officer.  Things you say may cause the CRA collections officer to become concerned.

9. Along the same lines, provide the information that is requested by the CRA collections officer.  If the CRA collections officer trusts you, he/she will be more likely to exercise discretion.

10. Always remember to be civil.  The CRA collectinos officer has a job to do.  It does not become personal unless you make it personal.  Know that they have a supervisor that wants to see results. Help them to their job.

Bonus tip: If you cannot make it work with a CRA collections officer because of a personality conflict between you and her/him, ask to meet with the CRA collections officer and his/her supervisor.  Do not use this opportunity to rant at the supervisor because you will only show the supervisor that the CRA collections officer is right about you.  Take the opportunity to press the reset button of the relationship. You need a positive resolution to your GST/HST problems.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or at cyndee@lexsage.com. Alternatively, visit www.lexsage.com.

One Of The Common Objection Mistakes - Missing The Deadline

There have been many times that a potential client contacts me (or any tax lawyer) to discuss filing a notice of objection to challenge a notice of assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA"). The potential client seems to have a good legal position.  Then, I ask for the notice of assessment date and --- yikes --- it is more than 3 months ago. 

The deadline to file a GST/HST notice of assessment is 90 days from the date on the notice of assessment.  Three months is a short amount of time that seems to tick by quickly.  Some of that time passes while the notice of assessment is in the mail.  Some of the time is spent looking for a tax lawyer.  Unfortunately, some of the time is spent avoiding the issue of a GST/HST assessment.

If a taxpayer misses the 90 day deadline, is there any chance to still file a notice of objection?  The answer is that it depends..  Section 303 of the Excise Tax Act gives taxpayers an opportunity to apply to the Minister for an extension of time to file a notice of objection within one year of the expiration of the 90 days deadline.  In the application for an extension of time, the taxpayer must:

1) demonstrate that within the 90 day deadline for the notice of objection the taxpayer was unable to act or give instructions to a representative to file a notice of objection OR the taxpayer had a bona fide intention to object; and

2) give good reasons why the Minister should grant the application for an extension of time.

It is not a sure thing that the Minister will grant an extension of time to file a notice of objection.  We have been successful in receiving an extension of time when a client did not receive the notice of assessment, where the client asked for information from the auditor and was waiting for the information, where the client continues to discuss the audit file with the auditor or a supervisor after the date of the notice of assessment (and the T2020 report has recorded this contact), and when the client has communicated with the CRA about a desire to object.

It is important to note that while a telephone call does not constitute a notice of objection, telephone calls can evidence a desire to object.  That being said, if the notice of assessment was issued in 2013 and you contact a lawyer in 2016, the 90 days plus 1 year period for seeking an extension of time will have expired. In this scenario, there is no opportunity to file a notice of objection late.

If the Minister rejects an extension of time request, the taxpayer may appeal to the Tax Court of Canada to have the extension of time reconsidered (see section 304 of the Excise Tax Act). The Tax Court of Canada may dismiss the request or grant the request. The taxpayer must be able to present the Tax Cort of Canada with evidence that they intended to object to the assessment and that it would be just and equitable to grant the extension of time to file the notice of objection.  The Tax Court will not be moved by arguments that the taxpayer forgot about the deadline.

Audit Tip: Make A List Of All Documents Provided To The Auditor

When we work with clients who are undergoing a GST/HST audit, we recommend that the client document each and every request of the auditor and what is provided.  This is done is two ways:

1) The taxpayer should keep a written master list of all documents (including (a) the request of the auditor, (b) the date of the request, (c) the documents provided to the auditor, (d) the date the documents were provided to the auditor, (e) notes about information provided along with the document, and (f) the location in the binder of hard copies or the name of the electronic document; and

2) A binder with hard copies copies of all the documents provided to the auditor and a USB key with any electronic documents provided to the auditor.

The master list and the copies are helpful if there is a disagreement over what was provided (e.g., the auditor claims certain documents were never provided) or if there is a disagreement about and assessment.  If the dispute is ultimately appealed to the Tax Court of Canada under the General Procedure, a partial list of documents (and potentially the documents) would be discoverable.  It takes much less time to photocopy an binder than to recreate document production at a later point in time.

Recently we were hired to file an appeal in a Tax Court proceeding and the bookkeeper no longer worked for the company.  The new bookkeeper was not familiar with the documents and spend many hours trying to re-create the document trail.  If the original bookkeeper had kept a list of documents and a binder, the client could have saved a lot of time and money.

We also recently worked with an existing client after an audit and they have followed our advice. They sent u the list of documents provided to the auditor and we could quickly determine that the auditor had not put many of the key documents in the audit file.  We had filed an ATIP request and received a very small file.

How To Find Out What Is In The Canada Revenue Agency's Files About Your Audit

Wouldn't you like to know what is in the Canada Revenue Agency's ("CRA") files concerning your GST/HST audit? This information is very valuable in finding out where the CRA made a mistake or what is the basis for the misunderstanding about your taxes.  We recommend obtaining this information as soon as possible after an assessment is issued AND after an appeals officer makes a decision to confirm an assessment.  The information in your audit file may help you prepare a notice of objection or notice of appeal.  The information in your CRA files may also be very useful during an examination for discovery. During the examination for discovery, your lawyer may use the information to catch the auditor or appeals officer (the usual deponents for the CRA) in a misstatement.  The examination for discovery process sometimes leads to settlements. Most importantly, the information in the auditors own files may be used to contradict assumptions made in making the assessment.

You may obtain information in your CRA files by filing an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request.  The ATIP requester must complete a Form RC378.  Where you may need the assistance of a tax lawyer is to ensure you are asking for the correct information.  If you have no idea for what to ask (e.g., the T2020 form completed by the CRA officer each time she/he spoke to you or a representative or someone in the CRA), you may miss requesting useful information.  This is the most common problem is not knowing what would be in the CRA's audit file.

The filing fee is only $CDN 5.00.

The CRA posts limited information on the Canada Revenue Agency web-site about making an ATIP request - see How to access information at the CRA.

The next problem that arises is that the CRA may withhold information.  There is the right of appeal should the CRA withhold certain information. This will be the subject of a subsequent blog post.

Based on our experience, the ATIP process often results in information being provided that an auditor will not often send to the taxpayer.  For example, if the auditor obtained an appraisal from the CRA, Real Property Appraisal Division, the auditor is often told not to give that document to the taxpayer.  The ATIP process usually results in the release of the appraisal.  Similar,y the auditor often will not share internal emails.  The ATIP process usually results in the release of the internal emails.  At the end of an audit, the auditor prepares a memo for the team leader/supervisor.  The ATIP process usually results in the release of the Auditor's file memo(s).

Based on our experience, it is important to file an ATIP request.  It is a small price to pay to possibly win the tax argument.  It is a small price to pay to potentially save the expense of a hearing at the Tax Court of Canada and years of fighting the tax dispute.  Finally, wouldn't you like to know what the auditor wrote in your file?

If you require assistance, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or cyndee@lexsage.com.  We offer flat rates to file ATIP requests.

The ABCs of Harmonized Sales Tax

Canada's federal harmonized sales tax ("HST") is complicated - even for the practitioners who practice in the area.  Here is a fun post about some of the common terms used in HST parlance.

A = Auditors - We hope they do not call.  When they do call, we hope they do not want to come for a visit.  When they come for a visit, we hope they do not stay long.  We are worried about the cost of their visit.

B = Budget - In the federal budget, the Department of Finance often includes changes to the Excise Tax Act (Canada) (the HST legislation).

C = Canada Revenue Agency - The Canada Revenue Agency enforces laws and regulations relating to HST.

D = Due Diligence - You want to have documentary evidence to show that you attempted to comply with the HST laws.  Directors can avoid personal liability for unremitted HST of a corporation is the director can show they took steps to prevent the corporation's failure.

E = Exemptions - Some supplies are exempt from GST/HST.  This means that no GST/HST will be applicable.  It also means that the person making the supply cannot claim certain input tax credits.

F = Fairness - If you could not comply with Canada's HST laws due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., the Alberta flood 2013, the Ontario ice storm 2013), you may be able to apply for fairness.

G = Goods and Services Tax (GST) - GST is a component of HST. The GST rate is currently 5%.

H = Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) - HST is GST + PVAT and is applicable to supplies made in participating provinces,  The HST rate depends upon the province in which the supply is made.

I = Input Tax Credits - If your are a registrant and are engaged in commercial activities, you may be entitled to claim an input tax credit to recover GST/HST paid in connection with business inputs.  Individual consumers cannot claim input tax credits. Input tax credits are good (and a hot audit issue - which can be bad).

J = Judicial Reviews - If you disagree with the CRA (e.g., with a fairness decision), you may be able to file a judicial review to the Federal Court of Canada (which is different than an appeal to the Tax Court of Canada).

K = Keep Records - I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping records.  Auditors, the appeals branch and the Tax Court of Canada all need records and evidence in order to agree with you.

L = Limitation Periods - Always know the limitation period.  Missing a limitation can cost you money or the right to object to or appeal a decision.

M = Misrepresentations - A simple mistake can be considered to be a misrepresentation.  If a person makes a misrepresentation attributable to neglect, carelessness or willful default, the Canada Revenue Agency may assess beyond the 4 year limitation period.

N = Non-residents = Persons outside Canada who may need to know about and comply with Canada's HST laws.

O = Objections - If you disagree with an assessment made by a CRA auditor, you must file a Notice of Objection within 90 days after the Notice of (Re)Assessment.

P = Participating Province - Canadian provinces that have adopted the HST are called participating provinces.  British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are not participating provinces.

R = Registrants - Registrants are persons who are registered for GST/HST purposes or are required to be registered.

S = Supply - A supply is the provision that is subject to GST/HST. Since not all transactions are "sales", the term used is "supply".  A barter transaction and supplies for no consideration are still supplies for GST/HST purposes.

T = Tax Court of Canada - Appeals of CRA decisions concerning objections are filed with the Tax Court of Canada, which is a specialized court.

U = Underground economy - Many businesses do not register for GST/HST purposes and participate in the underground economy.  Small suppliers are not required to register for GST/HST purposes.  If a consumer hires a contractor and pays the contractor under the table in order to save the HST, they are contributing to the underground economy - which is bad.

V = Voluntary Disclosures - If a business makes a mistake, it may may a voluntary disclosure to correct the mistake.  Usually, the CRA requires the HST and interest to be paid - but will waive the penalty.

W = Written Ruling - If you are unsure about the application of the HST legislation to a particular situation, you can write to the CRA for a written ruling.  A written ruling may be binding if it is an advance ruling and not an interpretation.  In order to obtain a written ruling, it is necessary to provide the CRA with the facts.

X = X-director = A person who was a director of a corporation and ceased to be a director may be held personally liable for the GST/HST liability of the corporation up to 2 years after the person ceased to be a director of the corporation.

Y = Year-End - Most registrants have a calendar year end (but not all).  Businesses may have to self assess GST/HST in connection with year-end adjustments (it all depends).

Z = Zero-rated - Certain supplies are zero rated.  This means that the supply is subject to GST/HST at the rate of 0%.  The supplier should be entitled to claim input tax credits.

Proposed Law: GST/HST Auditors Can Share Information About Foreign Bribery

On July 12, 2013, Canada's Department of Finance released for public comment proposed changes to the Income Tax Act, Excise Tax Act and Excise Act, 2001. I would like to focus on the proposed charges to the Excise Tax Act (also known as the "GST/HST Legislation").

Section 16 proposes an amendment to section 295 of the Excise Tax Act to add subsection 5.04 and reads in part:

"An official may provide to a law enforcement officer of an appropriate police organization

(a) confidential information, if the official has reasonable grounds to believe that the information will afford evidence of an act or omission in or outside Canada that if committed in Canada would be

(i) an offence under any of

(A) section 3 of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act,

(B) sections 119 to 121, 123 to 125 and 426 of the Criminal Code,

(C) section 465 of the Criminal Code as it relates to an offence described in clause (B), and

(D) sections 144, 264, 271, 279, 279,02, 281, and 331.1, paragraphs 334(a) and 248(1)(e) and sections 349, 435 and 462.31 of the Criminal Code.

Normally, an auditor must keep confidential information received during the course of an audit,  in other words, if he/she suspects that the financial records of a company disclose evidence of bribery activities, the auditor cannot give that information to the RCMP. 

With the new books and records provisions in the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, this proposed amendment has some logic.  I have previously commented that the auditors' ability to disclose would limit prosecutions of bribery activities that came to light in the course of an audit.

This proposed amendment means that companies that engage in such illegal bribery activities run a risk of discovery even when the GST/HST auditors show up.  Any time a GST/HST auditor asks for financial information, the company will have to worry about the secret being found out. 

The solution is to not engage in illegal bribery activities. Another solution is to conduct internal investigations and make sure there are no bribery activities.  Correct and disclose problems if they are found. The heat is being turned up.

If You Use Zapper Software, You May Shocked By New GST/HST AMPs

The March 21, 2013 Federal Budget in Canada announced new administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) and criminal offences under the Excise Tax Act (Canada) for:

(1) the use of  Electronic Suppression of Sales (ESS) software;

(2) the possession or acquisition of ESS software; and/or

(3) the manufacture, development, sale, possession for sale, offer for sale or otherwise making available ESS software.

ESS software is also known as "zapper" software because it hides sales transactions, thereby allowing vendors to under-state sales and evade payment of GST/HST and income taxes. This has been a hot audit topic for a number of years and the Department of Finance is giving the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) new tools to rid Canada of zapper software.

The AMPS penalties will shock the vendors who use ESS software or possess or acquire ESS software.  Vendors who use ESS software may be assessed an AMPs penalty in the amount of $5,000 for the first infraction and $50,000 on any subsequent infraction.  Vendors who possess or acquire ESS software may be assessed an AMPs penalty in the amount of $5,000 for the first infraction and $50,000 on any subsequent infraction.  These two AMPs penalties go hand-in-hand because a vendor who acquires or possesses ESS software is also likely to use it.  Both AMPs penalties can be imposed against the same vendor.  Also, if the CRA issues a first level AMPs penalty, it will also require the ESS software to be removed from the computer.  If ESS software is subsequently discovered in a new audit, it is likely second level AMPs will be imposed.  It may be possible that the CRA will interpret the AMPs penalties on a per transaction basis because the penalties may be imposed on a per infraction basis.

Businesses that manufacture, develop, sell, possess for sale, offer for sale or otherwise make available ESS software for sale will receive higher voltage AMPs.  The AMPS penalty for a first infraction is $10,000 and $100,000 for any subsequent infraction.  This AMPs penalty aims to end the supply of ESS software in Canada.

There is a limited due diligence defense available for vendors who acquire and possess ESS software and businesses that manufacture, develop, sell, possess for sale, offer for sale or otherwise make available ESS software for sale.  The due diligence defence will generally require a person to show that exercised the degree of care, diligence and skill to prevent the contravention with respect to ESS software that a reasonably prudent person would have used in comparable circumstances.  There may be cases where the person has attempted to ensure that they do not have ESS software and it has been installed on their computers. There may be a bug in a computer program that disrupts the sales records, but it was not intended.

In addition to the AMPs penalties, businesses that manufacture, develop, sell, possess for sale, offer for sale or otherwise make available ESS software for sale may also be subject to criminal sanctions.  The potential fines are as low as $10,000 (in addition to the AMPs penalties) and as high as $1,000,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years or both.

These new AMPs penalties and criminal sanctions will take effect January 1, 2014.  Given the time before implementation, it may be prudent to spend money on an IT check-up (it will likely cost less than a first level AMP).

The British Columbia PST Exemption Forms Help Auditors And Create Identify Theft & Other Risks For Buyers

In the week of March 18, 2013, The British Columbia Ministry of Finance released the following 3 exemption certificate forms:

The instructions on each of these forms is that the vendor must collect the information from the buyer or the vendor must collect PST. What this means that the information must be provided by the buyer or they must pay PST.

Looking at FIN 425 "Certificate of Exemption - Children's Clothing and Footwear", parents/grandparents (purchasers of children's clothing) must provide their name, address and telephone number to the retail clerk in order to benefit from the exemption contained in the law.  Forms must be competed and any number of people may access the information provided.  I am not suggesting that all retail locations are dishonest - not in the least.  There are elements in society who are dishonest and they may put themselves in a position to obtain this information.  If the buyer of the children's clothing pays by credit card (and isn't that usually the case?), the retail clerk would have a person's credit card number, name, address, telephone number and security code from the back of  the credit card.  What more will they need to engage in illegal activities for quick gain?

Businesses and consumers are at the mercy of telemarketers.  All three exemption certificates require a telephone number to be provided.  Names, addresses and telephone numbers can be added to marketing lists.

Finally, businesses must provide their PST number.  While this is understandable, how does a business prevent another person from using the information in order to make exempt purchases.  Based on experience from old Ontario RST days, it was common to see bar staff using ORST numbers to purchase alcohol for home party consumption.

It is understandable that the Ministry of Finance wants to be able to audit the use of purchase exemption certificates.  The government wants to protect the tax base. However, the people planning PST re-implementation should ask about protecting the people too. In my humble opinion, the exemption certificate forms are not balanced to protect buyers and this is a problem.  The quick retort that if a buyer wants to benefit from an exemption they should be willing to take the risk is not acceptable.  A person who is buying children's clothing should not be put in a position that they must pay PST or accept identity theft risk. 

British Columbia Ministry of Finance Releases FIN 492 Certificate of Exemption - Production Machinery and Equipment

On March 20, 2013, the British Columbia Ministry of Finance released form FIN 492 "Certificate of Exemption - Production Machinery and Equipment". Either my computer download capabilities are a not working properly or there is a problem with the form (or it is my eyes after too much reading of PST legislation).

The Certificate of Exemption is a purchase exemption certificate.  Businesses that may purchase exempt manufacturing and production machinery and equipment use this form when seeking a point of sale exemption or a blanket exemption and the vendor keeps the form on file. This purchase exemption certificate is different than the FIN 490 - Certificate of Exemption - General, which is to be used by businesses to purchase goods that are exempt for the purposes of resale or incorporation into goods for resale (or any other reason except it is production machinery and equipment).  I am not sure why there is the need for two separate forms (and why a few more potential boxes to check cannot be added to one form).  The two separate forms may give rise to confusion and assessment risk for vendors for having the wrong form completed.

Documentation of exempt of exempt transactions used to be a hot audit topic under the old PST regimes in British Columbia and Ontario.  Auditors would ask for the documentation and the vendor under audit would look or seek forms from their buyers/customers.  In many cases, it was not possible to satisfy the auditor and the vendor was assessed a penalty for failure to collect PST.  I recommend that businesses keep a folder of the forms for buyers to complete (please note that individual names are scrutinized as opposed to business names and forms without a PST number of the buyer are also scrutinzed by auditors).  I recommend that all completed forms be scanned and saved in computerized records - this was an electronic folder can be used as a back-up (do not throw out the completed forms because an auditor may demand the original).

Request For Taxpayer Relief - How Do You Spell R-E-L-I-E-F?

There is form that exists than enables a taxpayer (including a GST/HST registrant, supplier or recipient) to request GST/HST relief from the Canada Revenue Agency (often in the form of interest and penalty relief, but can include GST/HST).  It is an RC4288 form. However, it is not a magic form and completing it does not necessarily mean that you are going to get the relief you seek. While the CRA has broad discretion to grant relief, they also have broad discretion to deny relief.

The CRA is working to improve its procedures for dealing with Requests for Taxpayer Relief. When a completed form is filed with the supporting documentation, the CRA should send a letter to the requester acknowledging receipt of the Request for Taxpayer Relief.  The file should be assigned to a CRA officer and the taxpayer should receive requests for relevant documentation (unless a full set of relevant documents is provided with the Request for Taxpayer Relief).

If the taxpayer gets a decision that is not favourable - it happens often - then there is the ability to request an impartial review of the CRA officer's decision by the CRA (not the same CRA officer who rejected the request).

If the review procedure ends in a rejection of the requested relief, it is possible to seek a review by the Federal Court of Appeal by way of a judicial review.  However, judicial reviews often are an expensive legal procedure and can cost tens of thousands of dollars (even hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases depending on the complexity of the issues). There have been judicial review applications filed and the Federal Court of Appeal has in some cases sided with the taxpayer.

I will be honest with you - the Request for Taxpayer Relief Program can be frustrating for persons seeking relief. That does not mean it is not worth the effort and one should not try. Just know that you may feel like you are still stuck in the mud while pursuing a process that may take time.

What Happens If I Do Not Respond To A GST/HST Requirement For Information?

A GST/HST Requirement For Information (called RFIs) is a demand by the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") for information or documents issued pursuant to section 289 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) ("ETA"). Subsection 289(1) of the ETA provides that:

Despite any other provision of this Part, the Minister may, subject to subsection (2), for any purpose related to the administration or enforcement of ... this Part, including the collection of any amount payable or remittable under this Part by any person, by notice served personally or by registered or certified mail, require that any person provide the Minister, within any reasonable time that is stipulated in the notice, with

(a) any information or additional information, including a return under this Part; or

(b) any document.

Simply put, the CRA has the authority under the ETA to request persons (including third party advisors, such as lawyers and accountants) to provide identified information and/ or documents to the CRA.

Where a Requirement For Information is sent to you for your own information, the CRA is not required to take any formal steps before sending the Requirement For Information.  Where the CRA sends a Requirement for Information to a third person (e.g., a lawyer) for the information of another person (e.g., a former or existing client), the CRA must obtain a judicial authorization prior to imposing on the third person (e.g., lawyer) the Requirement for Information obligation.  Subsection 289(2) of the ETA provides:

The Minister shall not impose on any person (in this section referred to as a “third party”) a requirement under subsection (1) to provide information or any document relating to one or more unnamed persons unless the Minister first obtains the authorization of a judge under subsection [289(3) of the ETA].

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Respond To CRA Requests for Information on Due Diligence

Individuals who are directors of corporations may be held jointly responsible for unremitted GST/HST if the corporation fails to pay an assessed amount. Often after the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") is advised of a bankruptcy filing by the corporation, the CRA writes a short letter to the directors seeking information. Most letters from the CRA are unwelcome surprises - these letters may be an opportunity.

The letter from the CRA reads something like the following and often causes the recipient to panic:

"Under Section 323 of the "Excise Tax Act", the directors of a corporation may be held jointly and severally, or solidarily, liable together with the corporation to pay the corporations GS/HST arrears.

Based on CRA information, you may be liable for the unremitted GST / HST of [Corporation Name] and we are considering assessing you personally for [amount].

The due diligence provision of subsection 323(3) of the "Excise Tax Act" provides that the directors are not liable if they have exercised the care, diligence and skill expected of a competent person in the circumstances.  If you feel that you are not liable and that we should not issue an assessment, please provide written reasons and supporting documents which, in your opinion show you are not liable and return them to this office in 30 days."

It is important to respond to this letter from the CRA.  If you do not respond, the CRA will in all likelihood issue an assessment against you personally.  They are giving you an opportunity - you should take it.  Rather than fighting an assessment, it is better to prevent the assessment in the first place.

That being said, it is important to carefully write the letter.  Anything you write may be used against you and may be used to support their assessment of you.  You letter may be used against you if you appeal the assessment to CRA and eventually to  the Tax court of Canada.

Similarly, be very careful in what you say to the CRA on the telephone.  The CRA may type notes in their computerized records and may used them against you.

If the assessment is large enough, it may be worthwhile to ask a GST/HST professional to help with the preparation of the letter.  Sometimes it is the manner in which the information is presented that makes all the difference between an assessment and no assessment due to acceptance of due diligence. 

Based on our experience, it costs more to prepare a notice of objection, notice of assessment, reply submissions, list of documents and participate in a hearing than to write a thoughtful and organized letter explaining one's diligence.

Canadian Taxpayers Bill of Rights

Yesterdau. I wrote a post entitled "Do You Have A Complaint About The Canada Revenue Agency?" and mentioned the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.  I provided a link to the CRA web-site.  Here are the Rights:

1. You have the right to receive entitlements and to pay no more and no less than what is required by law.

2. You have the right to service in both official languages.

3. You have the right to privacy and confidentiality.

4. You have the right to a formal review and a subsequent appeal.

5. You have the right to be treated professionally, courteously, and fairly.

6. You have the right to complete, accurate, clear, and timely information.

7. You have the right, as an individual, not to pay income tax amounts in dispute before you have had an impartial review.

8. You have the right to have the law applied consistently.

9. You have the right to lodge a service complaint and to be provided with an explanation of our findings.

10. You have the right to have the costs of compliance taken into account when administering tax legislation.

11. You have the right to expect us to be accountable.

12. You have the right to relief from penalties and interest under tax legislation because of extraordinary circumstances.

13. You have the right to expect us to publish our service standards and report annually.

14. You have the right to expect us to warn you about questionable tax schemes in a timely manner.

15. You have the right to be represented by a person of your choice.

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Do You Have A Complaint About The Canada Revenue Agency?

If the answer is 'YES", there is a form for that & and address to send the complaint.  On September 21, 2011, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) released RC4420 Information on CRA - Service Complaints Includes form RC-193, Service-Related Complaints.  Form RC-193 can also be found separately.

I know you are skeptical that filing a complaint will resolve the differences you have with the CRA.  That being said, the CRA has a process for submitting complaints about their service, you can use it.  At the very least, you may feel better by completing the form - even if you never submit it.  The writing and venting process may help you see both sides of the issue.

The complaints process relates to quality of service.  The CRA takes the position that it provides a service to taxpayers.  Put aside the argument that you do not want their audit services.  Try to look at the issue from the CRA's perspective (even if that is difficult on the one hand and goes against your logical brain on the other).  They are providing services.  The Minister issued a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights and needs to know if the CRA is living up to the standards that they set for the services they deliver to the public.

"Service" refers to the quality and timeliness of the work performed by the CRA.  The bases for a complaint include, but are not limited to:

•undue delays;
•poor or misleading information;
•staff behaviour; or
•mistakes, which could result from misunderstandings, omissions or oversights.

These service elements may be considered in the context of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

If you decide to fill out Form RC-193 (fillable version), you may send it to the Complaints office at

CRA - Service Complaints
National Intake Centre
PO Box 8000
Shawinigan-Sud QC G9N 0A6
CANADA

Fax: 1-866-388-7371 (within Canada or United States)
Fax: 819-536-0701(outside Canada or United States)

After you write your complaint, put it in a drawer for 24-48 hours before running off to the fax machine or post office.  You may wish to rewrite parts of the narrative portion before submitting the complaint.  You certainly do not want to make matters worse for yourself.  if you have been treated unfairly, you may wish to ask legal counsel for assistance as it may be prudent to use the complaints process to preserve legal rights.

Canada Revenue Agency Issues Draft Policy On HST Self-Assessment & Seeks Comments

It is unusual for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to seek public comments on a difficult harmonized sales tax ("HST") topic.  Take advantage of the opportunity to shape their future policy.

On September 9, 2011, the CRA released DRAFT GST/HST Notice 266 "Harmonized Sale Tax - Self-assessment of the provincial part of HST in respect of property and services brought into a participating province".  The deadline for filing comments is October 31, 2011.  This document is 77 pages in length, so it will take time to review and find what will not work in practice.

Financial services providers, financial institutions, multi-jurisdictional charities & non-profit organizations, universities & colleges with campuses in more than one province, long term care home providers operating in more than one province, residential real estate management companies operating in more than one province, doctors and medical professionals or management companies operating in more than one province and other exempt businesses would be affected by this draft policy.  Non-resident companies also should be mindful of the draft policy if they are active in Canada and make exempt supplies.

In addition, even though the HST provinces should realize that they import supplies, they may not think of the HST consequences.  Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador and British Columbia (until they stop being a participating province) should also consider how the policy will affect them.

While the policy is in draft, it will be applied going back to July 1, 2010.  Also, while it is draft now, it will be finalized in the future.  The CRA auditors will consider this policy to be an assessment road map.  Please take the time to make sure it reflects a workable solution.

While it is self-serving for me to say this: Ask a sales tax lawyer for help in reviewing the draft policy and writing your comments.  This is your chance to improve your future and you can save money in the long run if you fix the problems before the policy is engraved in stone.

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Taxpayers May Not Be Helped By Past Mistakes of CRA

I often discuss with corporate taxpayers that they have been doing things a certain way for a number of years.  Often these taxpayers were audited by the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") on a previous occasion and the taxpayer's way of doing things were blessed or the mistake was not highlighted.  I have discussed that the CRA is not bound to make the same mistake twice and can change its mind without giving notice to the taxpayer.

In a recent decision of Manotas v. the Queen, the Tax Court of Canada discussed this very issue in the context of a taxpayer claiming residency for the purposes of determining entitlement to the Goods and Service Tax Credit.  The words may be changed slightly to apply in goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") cases.  Judge Bowie wrote in the decision:

I have not overlooked that the appellant has chosen to file returns declaring her income in Canada each year, nor the fact that upon her departure the Minister expressed the view that she was a “factual resident of Canada”. It is not open to individuals to establish Canadian residence when that is economically beneficial to them by the simple expedient of filing a return of income under the Act. Nor is the Minister bound by his conclusion as to her residence formed a decade ago. Factual circumstances change, and conclusions change with them. But even where the circumstances remain unchanged, the Minister is free to form a different opinion as to the legal effect of the circumstances in a later time period. It is well settled that if the Minister arrives at an erroneous conclusion in assessing a taxpayer (or in determining the right to refundable credits), she is not bound to repeat that error in perpetuity: see Nedelcu v. The Queen [which was confirmed by the Federal Court of Appeal]

Sorry to be the messenger of this news. 

Voluntary Disclosures: Get Ahead of the Sales Tax Problem

If you make a voluntary disclosure of a sales tax error (giving rise to a payment), you get ahead of the problem.  You maintain an element of control.  If the Canada Revenue Agency or provincial governmental authorities (whichever is applicable) find the problem during the audit, you may have little control over the outcome.  This is why it is recommended that you make a voluntary disclosure if you find your sales tax mistakes and do not wait for the auditor to "maybe find it".

The Canada Revenue Agency and the Ontario Ministry of Revenue have developed voluntary disclosure programs that promise to not charge a gross negligence penalty (and other forms of penalty) if you voluntarily come forward to report the errors and pay the tax and interest.  In some cases, the authorities will even grant relief on a portion of the interest if the disclosure goes back many years.

For a voluntary disclosure to be accepted, it must be voluntary.  This means that the authorities have not informed the taxpayer of an upcoming audit.  If you were not on their radar and you come forward, there is a potential for financial savings.

But, that is not enough for the disclosure to be accepted.  It must be the first time this problem is identified with the tax authorities.  If you have made this type of error before and were informed about the error, the authorities will not accept the disclosure as voluntary.  They expected you to make the corrections to the sales tax recording and remittance systems after their earlier discussions with you.

Even if this is a first time issue, that is not enough for the disclosure to be accepted.  It must be complete.  You must do the work that an auditor would do.  You cannot hide some of the information or transactions.  For example, I recently worked with a non-resident client to make a voluntary disclosure of Ontario retail sales tax payable on goods imported from outside Canada for own use.  The client made an initial disclosure and payment based on Canada Customs import documentation.  Before we submitted the paperwork, we undertook a second review of the records and realized we have forgotten imports from another province.  We updated the disclosure and paid the additional tax.  We submitted to the authorities a detailed spreadsheet with each of the transactions and the back-up documentation at tabs matching the excel spreadsheet line number.  We made it easy for the government to audit and agree with our calculation.

The auditor assigned to the voluntary disclosure may conduct a desk audit or an on-site audit after the supporting documentation is provided.  If the auditor finds that the disclosure is not complete, he/she will assess the tax that you said was owing, the additional tax he/she found was owing, and then will calculate interest and penalties on the entire amount.

Many mistakes can be the subject of a voluntary disclosure; but, not all mistakes can be the subject of a voluntary disclosure.  If you collected sales tax and did not remit it, you will not be permitted to make a voluntary disclosure.  The government has a serious issue with you keeping their money.

Non-Residents Can Get Their Border GST/HST Back If They Plan Ahead

I am asked regularly whether a non-resident person who does not wish to register for GST/HST purposes can get an input tax credit for the goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") (if charged and) paid at the border.  The answer is "no", the non-resident cannot claim an input tax credit if they do not get into the GST/HST system, post security and file GST/HST returns.

However, other options may be available depending on the facts (which can be arranged to permit recovery).  These options are available in a business transaction and are not available to a non-resident bringing goods to Canada for their own use (e.g. at a cottage in Muskoka). The two main options are:

1) use of a drop shipment certificate; and

2) structuring the importation in a way to permit another person to recover the money.

These options are not available in every situation.  They are complicated to describe and implement.  Often the assistance of a sales tax lawyer or accountant or consultant is requirement to make sure the transactions are structured perfectly.  Since the purpose of the structuring is to get money back from the Canadian government or accomplish tax relief, the Canada Revenue Agency may inquire about the facts to see if all "t"s are crossed and "i"s dotted.

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Canada Revenue Agency Auditors Concerned About Registrants Overclaiming Input Tax Credits

Based on personal experience and not any official report from the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA"), it is obvious to sales tax professionals that the CRA are concerned about goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") registrants over claiming input tax credits.

On a GST/HST return for a reporting period, the registrant must report the amount of GST/HST collected during the reporting period on its taxable sales.  However the registrant remits "net tax" after adding amounts it must add and deducting amounts it may deduct.  One of the most important category of deductions from GST/HST collected is input tax credits being claimed.  The more input tax credits, the less GST/HST that must be remitted (and in some cases, the larger the refund cheque).

The most obvious concern to CRA auditors is that GST/HST registrants claim false input tax credits when they file their GST/HST returns.  False claims are when a person did not actually purchase a business input and are making up a deduction.

One of the most common audit issues if failure to maintain records relating to input tax credits that meet the documentary requirements of subsection 196(4) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and the Input Tax Credit Information (GST/HST) Regulations.  The CRA will reject input tax credits when the documents to support the claims are not available or if the documents do not contain all the relevant information (e.g., the GST/HST number of the supplier).

Another common audit issue is that the input tax credit is claimed too early (and, therefore, in the incorrect reporting period.  For example, a business files monthly returns.  A business buys a building on March 2nd.  If the registration claims the input tax credit for that building purchase in the February GST/HST return, the input tax credit will be denied and moved to March.

The last two areas of concern are often a source of frustration for businesses.  Honest business owners can get caught.  They are not the bad guys who are essentially stealing money by making false claims.  They are often busy and do not have the best record-keeping systems or do not have the time to chase down a supplier for information after the goods/services are provided and the money has been paid.  They do not pour over every detail on a piece of paper because hey know what transaction transpired.

What Does A Seller Do When Someone Refuses To Pay HST?

This is a problem now and the problem will occur more regularly in British Columbia after the referendum results are misstated and people believe the HST should not be charged.  The answer that vendors, sellers & service providers do not want to hear is the only answer to give.

GST/HST registrants are tax collectors for the government.  They must charge, collect and remit the HST or risk an assessment plus interest and penalties.  During an audit by the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") will assess the registrant for failure to collect HST or a failure to remit the HST.  This means that if the vendor does not charge the purchaser HST (when he/she should), the CRA will assess the vendor.  If the vendor does charge the HST on the invoice and the buyer does not pay the HST, the vendor must remit that HST to the government with its GST/HST return for the period during which the transaction took place (regardless of whether the money was actually received).  If a vendor fails to remit HST, it will be assessed.

There are special rules for bad debts that do not apply to only the HST portion.  There are also special rules that allow a registrant (seller) to sue a recipient (vendor) for HST, however, these rules only kick in after an assessment by the CRA.

The CRA auditors will not be sympathetic when a vendor does not follow the rules.  Telling an auditor that the buyer refused to pay the HST will fall on deaf ears.  The auditors will not care that the vendor would have lost the sale and the profits related to the sale.

Vendors in British Columbia should post a sign in their shops telling buyers that HST will be collected until the transition date (currently said to be March 2013).  This includes service providers who provide in person services (such as hair salons).  Other vendors and service providers should include a statement in quotations that:

 "Harmonized Sales Tax ("HST") is payable in respect of any property or services provided prior to the date established by the Province of British Columbia and Federal Government of Canada to transition to a provincial sales tax (the "Transition Date").  HST will continue to be charged after the Transition Date if required by law.  All applicable provincial sales taxes are payable in respect of property and services provided after the Transition Date."

This statement may be added to contracts for property or services.

If a buyer does not pay the HST after the property or services are provided, the vendor may pursue the buyer in Small Claims Court or the provincial court for breach of contract.  However, in respect of point of sale refusals, the vendor will have to make a business decision whether to meet refusal with a refusal to make the sale. Service providers and restaurant owners who have provided the service and experience the refusal at the cashier are in a very difficult position and may have no other option but to call the police before the person dashes (while being careful to avoid a false imprisonment claim made against them).

In any event, document any situation where there is a refusal to pay the HST and provide as much detail as possible..  Even if an unsympathetic CRA officer will not accept the information, the Tax Court of Canada may sympathetically suggest that a remission order would be appropriate.

GST/HST Business Consent Form

When you would like to communicate with the Canada Revenue Agency that you have hired a lawyer, accountant or other consultant to represent your interests and that the CRA may communicate with your representative you must complete a Business Consent Form.  The Business Consent Form has been around for some time.  It was recently revised and newly released on August 12, 2011.

Would You Like To Get On The HST Bandwidth Wagon?

The Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") is looking at the characterization of telecommunication services provided by non-traditional means (such as Voice over Internet Protocol).  Which HST place of supply rule applies depends on the characterization.  What is important to know if that if the CRA does not have all the answers yet (which, it does not), you may not be charging HST properly if you do not ask them.

The CRA has already received a few advance ruling requests.  The CRA has indicated that they are looking at 4 different requests that deal with VoIP services:

  • supplies of VoIP services by a non-resident supplier where the communications are initiated outside Canada, but received in Canada;
  • supplies of VoIP service calling plans for a flat fee;
  • supplies of VoIP services provided where the communication are initiated in Canada, but received outside Canada; and
  • supplies of VoIP services provided by a non-resident where the communications are initiated and received outside Canada, but routed through a server located in Canada.

If you have similar questions, it may be wise to request an advance GST/HST ruling from the CRA.  It may take time (possibly years) before the CRA issues a policy statement based on the rulings it provides.  It also may take months or years for the CRA to publish the rulings it gives to those who have asked.  If you would like to receive your own binding ruling (that may be handed to a CRA auditor when they visit a supplier or a recipient of VoIP services), you will need to submit your own ruling request.

The great benefit of GST/HST ruling requests is that it demonstrates due diligence in the event that the CRA disagrees with you in the end.  Acts that count as "due diligence" can relive a director from a director's liability claim.

GST/HST Waiver Form

During a GST/HST audit, you may be asked the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") auditor to sign a waiver.  A waiver authorizes the CRA to issue an assessment against the person who provided the waiver beyond the statutory limitation period.  As a result, one must be very careful when signing a waiver and should never do so lightly and without consideration of the negative effects of signing a waiver.

A new Waiver Form was released by the CRA on August 10, 2011.  There is a corresponding form that you should also know about - the Notice of Revocation of Waiver Form.

For more information about waivers, please see the posting on The HST Blog on January 3, 2011 entitled "A Waiver is NOT a Hand Gesture to a Canada Revenue Agency Auditor to Say Goodbye"

Deregistered Charities Face GST/HST Issues

When I say "deregistered charities", I am referring to deregistration as a charity and not deregistration for GST/HST purposes.  If a charity that was a registered charity is deregistered as a charity (no longer considered to be a charity by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)), that entity will face a number of assessments, including GST/HST, if they do not make changes.

If an entity is deregistered as a charity, it would have to determine if the supplies made by it are exempt or taxable for GST/HST purposes.  Many supplies made by charities are exempt pursuant to Part V.1 of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act (Canada).  A key pre-condition to the exemption may not be satisfied after deregistration.  If the exemption is no longer available and the entity does not change its invoicing (charging) practices, it may be assessed for failure to collect GST/HST.

If supplies become taxable (when a charity no longer makes exempt supplies), the entity must determine if they may claim input tax credits paid by it on business inputs.  The accountants and book-keepers will have to undertake a careful review.  If the entity does not claim input tax credits, it may lose its opportunity.

If an entity is deregistered as a charity, it would no longer be entitled to claim public service body rebates to recover otherwise unrecoverable GST/HST paid on business inputs.  Charities may claim a public service body rebate of 50% of the GST portion.  Depending on the province(s) in which a charity operates, the charity may claim another rebate for the PVAT (provincial) component.  If the charity is deregistered, a key pre-condition of entitlement will no longer apply.  If the entity does not change the way it completes its GST/HST return, it may be assessed to draw back rebates improperly claimed.

There are many other changes that may be experienced by specific charities.  For example, certain charities take advantage of the election in section 211 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and that benefit would no longer be available.  Certain volunteer reimbursements and allowance rules would not longer be available. Certain charities could deregister for GST/HST if they are below the small supplier threshold for charities. 

If the CRA is talking about deregistration of an entity as a charity, that entity needs to address the issues in that discussion.  If they ignore the CRA during the deregistration process and do not take steps to revisit all elements of charging GST/HST and taking advantage of entitlements, there may be costly assessments against the former charity and/or the directors of the charity.

Alert: Businesses Must Remit GST/HST From Own Pocket Even If Not Paid By Customer/Client

A GST/HST registered supplier must submit its GST/HST returns on time (either monthly, quarterly or annually) and remit (that is pay to the Receiver General) all GST/HST charged on invoices issued during the period for the GST/HST return.  If an invoice has not been paid by the customer/client, the GST/HST must be remitted.  This means that the supplier must take the money from his/her own pocket or even draw on a line of credit.  The Canada Revenue Agency will assess the supplier interest and penalties if the GST/HST is not remitted.

All that being said, the supplier may claim its input tax credits to minimize the impact of the rule.  The net tax calculation may soften the effect of the rule - but it remains that the supplier is on the hook for the GST/HST.

Businesses may have to wait a long time to be paid by their customer/client and are out-of-pocket the GST/HST for some time depending on the situation.  The CRA auditors with whom I have spoken are not sympathetic to the supplier.  On the contrary, suppliers are more often viewed critically and as potential thieves of the government's money.  This is unfair.

Federal Court of Appeal Says 10 Years Not Too Long To Assess A Director GST/HST

I have been talking about director's liability over the posting of this week, I will continue this theme.

On October 10, 2010, Judge Sharlow of the Federal Court of Appeal upheld a decision of the Tax Court of Canada that imposed liability on a director for GST debts of a corporation. Judge Sharlow used to be a tax lawyer before becoming a judge and her decisions on tax matters are worth reading.

In Jarrod v. The Queen, Judge Sharlow would not grant the Jarrod's request.  Unfortunately, there isn't much in the decision regarding her reasoning.  That being said, Judge Sharlow clearly held the self-represented Jarrod could be assessed under section 323 of the Excise Tax Act regardless of the fact that the CRA waited over 10 years and even if the delay put Mr. Jarrod at a disadvantage (significant interest was owing).

It is necessary to look at the Tax Court of Canada decision for the key facts. The company, Jarrold and Associates, was responsible for unremitted net GST owing by the Company to the Minister for the years in question.  Keeping collected GST is one of the worst forms of action on the part of a supplier.

The company did not pay the assessment of unremitted net taxes of $8,027.21 together with the related penalties and interest for the periods in issue.  Jarrod was the sole director of Jarrod and Associates and, therefore, had complete control over GST remittances - so nobody would have been in a better position that he would be to know what was going on.

The Tax Court of Canada held that the CRA was justified in making its assessment against Jarrod as a director of the company after so many years.  The Tax Court stated:

[35] With respect to the question about whether or not the Minister acted reasonably and responsibly in waiting for 10 years before making this assessment, the Court has no control over that. The Minister was within his rights to wait as he did, but apart from that, certainly there was substantial evidence before me as to why there was the delay that there was. Part of it had to do with the Appellant himself in not filing returns. The returns were filed late. The Minister attempted to get him to file documentation, to send in information so that he could conclude whether the offer that he was making to settle the matter was reasonable or not. All of those things accounted for some of the delay. So overall, the Court is satisfied that the delay has been explained.

[36] The Court is satisfied the Minister acted reasonably in any event. It accepts counsel for the Respondent’s position that the Minister had the right to decide as to how he was going to collect this debt. It is satisfied that the Minster waited part of the time because one of the agents on the file did not think they would be successful in processing the claim because there were no assets to attach. But subsequently, another officer had come in and, through her research, found that there may have been assets there which were capable of satisfying the account. It was reasonable, then, for the Minister to make the assessment that he did.

[37] This Court has no jurisdiction to question the Minister’s decision to proceed as he did. This Court is satisfied the Minister had the option to proceed as he did and there was nothing wrong with proceeding the way he did. The Minister had the right to assess the penalties that he did and to assess the interest that he did. There was nothing wrong in the manner in which he acted. 

With this information, one can see why the courts have held Jarrod to pay.  Whether the result would be fair if another director is assessed, will be a question for another day.  What will be necessary to show in any future case is that the CRA's actions are wrong.  Even then, there would be no guarantee that a court would grant an appeal and vacate the assessment.  The question may be that of fairness.

A Director May Liable For Corporation's GST/HST Debt Even Where Corporation Cannot Be Assessed

The posts of July 18 and July 19, 2011 discussed the recent Tax Court of Canada decision in Siow v. the Queen.  On July 18th, in a blog posting entitled "The CRA Must Prove That A Notice Of Assessment Was Sent", I discussed the finding of the Tax Court that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) did not prove that the underlying assessments were actually sent to the corporation in respect of which Siow was the sole director.  on July 19th, in a blog posting entitled "Director's Liability Provisions in GST/HST Law Is Not Restricted To 4 Year Limitation Period", I discussed the finding of the Tax Court that director's liability assessments do not have an end date for a limitation period, except that a director cannot be assessed after 2 years from the date he/she ceases to be a director.

Siow argued that since the Tax Court had held that the underlying assessment against the corporation was invalid, the corporate debt was nil and, therefore, he should not be assessed even though the limitation period for Siow, as a director, was still open.  Siow argued that if the Minister has no rights to proceed against the Corporation for any amount then it must have no rights to proceed against a director of the Corporation assessed under the directors’ liability provisions of the Act; namely section 323 of the Excise Tax Act.

The Tax Court disagreed with Siow.  The Tax Court consider principles of statutory interpretation and held:

The clear wording of [subsection 323(1) of the Excise Tax Act] crystallizes a director’s liability to pay the net tax not remitted by the Corporation “at the time the corporation was required to remit or pay, as the case may be, the amount. . .”

The provision makes no reference to any requirement for assessment or that the amount must be related to an assessed amount. The “amount” referenced is clearly the “amount of net tax as required under subsection 228(2)”, applicable here, which subsection requires a registrant to remit net tax. There is no ambiguity in the textual wording of subsection 323(1).

The Tax Court then looked at subsection 299(2) of the Excise Tax Act, which reads as follows:

Liability under this Part to pay or remit any tax, penalty, interest or other amount is not affected by an incorrect or incomplete assessment or by the fact that no assessment has been made.

The Tax Court held that the result following from subsection 299(2) is that tax may be considered to be owing even if a valid assessment has not been issued.

The Tax Court then looked at the federal Court of Appeal decision in Beaupré v. Canada (2005 FCA 168, 2005 G.T.C. 1420 (FCA), Létourneau J.A.) which confirmed that “The tax debt arises not from the assessment but from the Act: . . .”

The Tax Court reviewed other cases and ultimately held:

To make an assessment against the corporation a precondition to proceeding against a director under subsection 323(2) would render subsection 299(2) meaningless, which would be a ridiculous result. Parliament intended such subsection to have meaning and the Appellate Courts have confirmed its application as the basis for a director’s liability. Clearly, the right of the Minister to proceed against a director is not based on a purely derivative action, as supposed by the Appellant’s counsel in argument, but on the basis that due to sections 323 and 299 of the Act, a director is jointly and severally liable for an unremitted amount, regardless of whether there was an assessment against the corporation.

The facts may have been important in bringing the Tax Court to this conclusion.  Siow had filed the GST/HST returns for the corporation and had had discussions with the CRA.  Siow knew the amounts of the assessments because they were based on GST/HST returns that had been filed and not an arbitrary assessment by the CRA.

In the end, the Tax Court recognized that the effect of the decision in terms of collecting the monies from the director needed to be stated:

Whatever limitations the Minister may have in enforcing collection against a corporation for lack of valid assessment do not limit the Minister in enforcing against a director unless specifically set out in the legislation. The only limitations apparent to me are that the Minister cannot collect more than owed in the first place as subsection 323(6) limits the amount collectable from a director to be the amounts not paid by the corporation, which is clearly a bar against double recovery, itself a principle of natural justice, and the principles of natural justice entitling a director to challenge the underlying amount owing, regardless if assessed against the corporation or not, unless of course a director can successfully argue he or she was assessed more than two years after ceasing to be a director pursuant to the limitation period of subsection 323(5) or has a due diligence defence under subsection 323(4) of the Act, neither of which are applicable here.
 

It will be interesting to watch whether this case will be appealed.

Smells Fishy: Canada Revenue Agency Obtains Court Orders To Access Books and Records of Quebec Municipalities

The Globe and Mail newspaper is reporting that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has obtained Court orders from the Federal Court of Canada ordering 146 Quebec municipalities to provide records on payments to outside contractors and consultants.  In the article entitled "CRA seeks court orders to open books of 146 Quebec municipalities", the Globe and Mail reports that based on affidavits filed with the Federal Court, the CRA is focusing on unreported income of persons to whom the municipalities make payments.  The report indicates that the CRA has obtained Court orders previously in respect of 88 municipalities in and around the Eastern Townships and Department of Justice lawyers are scheduled to be back in Federal Court in Montreal on Monday to obtain similar orders for the towns in and around the Quebec City’s north and south shore.

I have concerns that the CRA's Court orders set a precedent.  The CRA may be emboldened to obtain similar Court orders for municipalities everywhere.  It sounds (and smells) like a fishing expedition on the part of the CRA.  The CRA believes (rightly or wrongly) that certain illegal activity is happening in the area of Quebec municipal contracting (there are news reports of mob activity in Quebec in the construction industry) and yet the CRA affidavits that accompanied the motion filed with the Federal Court is not focused on named companies.  Based on the news reports, the affidavits seek information on "unnamed persons" and are extraordinarily broad in scope (meaning large volumes of documents and information are required to be provided by municipalities to the CRA).

I have concerns that the CRA's Court orders are not limited to just income tax and failures by contractors and consultants to pay income tax.  What about goods and services tax ("GST") and Quebec sales tax ("QST")?   If there is unreported income tax, there is surely unremitted GST and QST.  If municipalities and townships paid contractors and consultants "under the table", there could be assessments against the municipality/township for failure to pay GST and QST.  These assessments could get quite large if there are indeed "payment issues".  Municipalities already have budget deficit issues - large assessments may prove to be financially problematic (not to mention that the provincial government and federal government (depending on whether federal or provincial taxes are assessed) would receive a penalty and interest payment from the municipalities.

What is ironic is that the recent judicial review applications (e.g., Tele-Mobile) have been denied by the Federal Court on the basis that the Tax Court of Canada has jurisdiction over tax matters and tax statutes contain a complete code.  A resolution will be tabled at the Canadian Bar Association meeting in Halifax in August to expand the jurisdiction of the Tax Court of Canada.

Municipalities throughout Canada should watch these cases carefully and any municipality could be next (the Department of Justice lawyers have the motion materials precedent ready amend and file).  There should be a cause for concern not only to municipalities, but also businesses.  If the CRA would go to the Federal Court and ask for broad access to the books and records of municipalities, would they not make similar requests against businesses?

Believe: It is Possible to Stop an Incorrect Assessment

It is better to help the auditor get the right answer (that is, assess the right amount) than to watch the auditor arrive at the wrong answer and then spend months or years fighting to convince someone else to overrule the auditor and lower the assessment.  If you believe that the auditor will make a mistake and do not give the auditor the information he/she needs to make a correct calculation, then the auditor will make a mistake. If you think the auditor does not understand your business and do not explain your business, then the auditor will not understand your business.  If you think the auditor does not understand the law and you do not explain the law to the auditor, then the auditor may make an error in law.

However, if you take a positive approach from the start of the audit to help the auditor make the correct assessment, it is more likely the auditor will make the correct assessment.  If you take time to educate the auditor concerning your business, the auditor is more likely to understand your business.  If you undertake the effort to explain the facts in a simple and organized manner, it is more likely that the auditor will see the facts from you point of view.  If you take the time to know the law, it is more likely that you and the auditor can productively discuss the law.

For example, in a recent case, a client called saying that the auditor had informed the client that she would be coming with a significant assessment in a few days.  After a little positive effort on our client's part, she was informed last week that there would be no assessment.  The client had prevented the incorrect assessment by taking steps to correct misunderstandings.  Merely saying to an auditor that she/he is stupid will not stop the assessment.  The client worked with us to organize the facts, research the law, and come up with valid arguments that the auditor (and her supervisor) could accept.

If the client had not acted quickly to become as prepared as possible, the assessment would have been issued. If the client had not taken a positive attitude and approach to change the outcome, the assessment would have been issued.  If the client had not believed she could stop an incorrect assessment, it would not have happened.

Sharing a Rumour That Has Not Been Independently Confirmed

I have been informed (and have not been able to independently confirm) that a number of CRA auditors are planning on auditing municipalities and hospitals because they understand that budgetary contraints within the MUSH (municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals) sector has potentially reduced compliance with goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") rules.  While compliance with Canada's laws is important and the MUSH sector is not exclused from scrutiny, it would be disappointing if the intention of auditors is take advantage of the difficult financial circumstances of these public sector bodies.

The Canada Revenue Agency Has Released A New Guide For Non-Residents Doing Business In Canada

Non-residents who are doing business in Canada and would like to comply with Canada's Goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales (HST) tax laws should review this new gide published by the Canada Revenue Ageny on June 15, 2011. "Doing Business in Canada - GST/HST Information for Non-Residents" is an important document to read.  It is over 38 pages on information that may or may not answer the questions that the non--resident may have about their GTS/HST obligations.

Whether or not a non-resident is actually doing business in Canada is a factual test.  There is no definition of "carrying on business in Canada" in the GST/HST laws.  Pages 7-8 of the CRA's document address the basics and a Canadian sales tax lawyer can help apply the CRA's test in a particular case.

The CRA document addresses many issues, including:

1. Should a non-resident register for GST/HST purposes?

2. How is GST/HST calculated?

3. What are the GTS/HST return filing requirements?

4. What are the place of supply rules for charging HST?

5. How is GST/HST applied on imported goods?

6. How is GST/HST applied on imported services and intangible property?

7. How is GST/HST applied on exported goods, services and intangible property?

8. What are drop shipments and how do the drop shipment rules work?

9. How do non-residents recover GTS/HST by way of a rebate?

Warning: Registered Persons Should Not Claim 100% Of The ITCs on Meals & Entertainment

When I read the article in the Vancouver Sun entitled "Entrepreneur says HST cuts red tape", all I could think is this guy is going to be audited by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  Here is a guy trying to help the B.C. Liberal Government win the HST referendum and is putting out his story for the world (and the CRA) to see.  However, either he does not understand the HST rules regarding meals and entertainment expenses or the reporter does not understand the rules.  What has been written might catch the attention of the CRA.

The Vancouver Sun article states:

  • Taneja footed a $429.42 bill for a birthday party of 20 at the Waldorf, then headed with a staff member to meet some friends at 100 Nights, where he spent a further $358.40 on food and booze;
  • But HST costs Taneja incurs to do business get refunded, and he supports the harmonized tax as a better alternative to the PST/GST hybrid. Before, businesses could recover the five-per-cent GST, but not the seven percent PST component.
The reality is that any registrant for HST purposes cannot recover 100% of the HST paid on meals and entertainment expenses.  At best, the registrant is limited to an input tax credit (ITC) of 50% of the HST paid on meals and entertainment expenses.  Large businesses (businesses that make taxable supplies in excess of 10,000,000 per year, certain financial institutions and certain MUSH sector businesses) may be subject to the recaptured input tax credit rules and these businesses must reverse their ITCs on the provincial component of the HST charged in connection with their meals & entertainment expenses.
 
For example, if a small business, such as the individual in the Vancouver Sun article, has a meal expense of $200 (including tip) in British Columbia, they would pay HST in the amount of $24.  The allowable input tax credit would be only $12 (not the full $24).
 
Now for the reality check - Under the British Columbia PST regime, a person did not pay social services tax on restaurant meals (food component) and paid SST on alcohol.  Assuming the restaurant meal did not include alcohol, prior to HST, the individual would pay $200 plus $10 GST.  The individual would recover $5 by way of an input tax credit.  As a result of HST, the unrecoverable cost of the restaurant meal increased from $205 to $212  (costs $7 more).
 
The CRA may audit ITC claims to ensure that a registrant indeed paid the HST in connection with commercial activities and that he/she has the documents required that meet the documentary requirements.  The individual in the article is said to have met "friends at 100 Nights".  If a registered person goes out to dinner with friends, family or for personal reasons, he/she is not entitled to claim ITCs in connection with the personal expenditures.  The CRA will be concerned that under the HST regime, sole proprietorships and other registrant may be using their GST/HST returns improperly as a personal ATM to government money.  It was never intended that individuals recover personal costs. 
 
In the circumstances of the person in the Vancouver Sun article, the CRA will go through the receipts (and there better be receipts) with a fine tooth comb and will want information about the many meals and entertainment expense claims, including who was the business client at each of the restaurant/bar. The CRA auditor may ask for the names and contact information of the business associates and will follow-up with the business associates to see if they met for business purposes.  The threat of an audit or quasi-criminal charges for lying to an auditor often cause the business associates to convey accurate information about the meetings over meals & entertainment. Also, business clients do not like the attention of the CRA and contact by the CRA may negatively affect a business relationship (I have seen this happen before when an individual writes a person's name on an expense claim and the meeting did not actually occur).
 
I would like to warn those registrants who are not familiar with the HST rules and who do not have an accountant/bookkeeper who knows the HST rules.  Following the actions of the person in the article may get you into trouble with the CRA.
 
As for the Vancouver Sun article, the next article may have a different title: "HST Audit Increases Red Tape".

 

The Long Ha Case Is Not That Funny, Except For The Tax Debtor's Name

Recently, on June 6, 2011, the Tax Court of Canada released its decision in Long Ha v. The Queen.  I will admit that I read the case because of the name of the appellant.  The case was actually very interesting (from a factual perspective).

This case involved a sole proprietorship that was assessed income tax and goods and services tax (GST) on a net worth assessment basis.  The main focus of the appeal was the GST assessment.  Interestingly, Mr. Ha was partially successful in showing that CRA's  net worth calculation was incorrect.

Most interesting is how the case began.  On June 8, 2002, Mr. Ha was returning to Canada and was sent to a secondary inspection by the Canada Border Services Agency.  In the secondary search, $40,000 in cash was discovered.  The matter was referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who did not seize the cash.  However, the RCMP were not satisfied with Mr. Ha's explanations as to why he had such a large amount of cash in his possession, the RCMP sent a referral to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) who reviewed Mr. Ha's income tax returns.  The CRA found that the $40,000 was not explained by Mr. Ha's income tax returns.  The CRA took the position that Mr. Ha had unreported income from business (Mr. Ha was a salal picker and fisherman).  The CRA conducted a net worth assessment based on a bank deposit analysis, bank statements, mortgage applications and mortgage statements. The schedule for personal expenditures was calculated using Statistics Canada information to estimate the costs for a single individual.  The CRA assessed Mr. Ha income tax and GST.

Mr. Ha conceded that his income was under reported.  However, he disputed the CRA's net worth calculation as too high.  The CRA felt Mr. Ha's calculation of his unreported income was too low.  The Tax Court had to find the right answer.  The Tax Court found that Mr. Ha's evidence was not credible. His explanation concerning the $40,00 changed each time he told it. When he was stopped in the Vancouver International Airport, he told the authorities that the $40,000 in his possession was from his employment as a fisherman and from a restaurant business. On December 12, 2004, he told a CRA auditor that the $40,000 was from his savings, salal picking and a few hundred dollars from friends. At the hearing before the Tax Court, Mr. Ha testified that the $40,000 was a loan or gift given to him.

After determining that Mr. Ha's evidence was not credible, the Tax Court found that the evidence of a number of witnesses was credible.  As a result, the Tax Court reduced the net worth assessment by the certain amounts that, based on the evidence, were not attributable to business activities (e.g. were loans, insurance proceeds, transfer from spouse, a withdrawal from an RRSP, etc.).

Canada Revenue Agency Provides List of Exempt and Taxable Health Care Service Providers

In the recent Excise and GST/HST News No. 80 (Spring 2011)  (GST/HST News 80) published by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the CRA puts on notice a list of health care professionals that it considers to offer TAXABLE services.  Many of these health care professionals are likely not charging goods and services tax (GST) or harmonized sales tax (HST).  This means, if these categories of health care professionals are audited by the CRA, it is likely that assessments will be issued.  In the HST provinces (Nova Scotia (15%), Ontario, Newfoundland/Labrador, New Brunswick (13%), British Columbia (12%)), the assessments may add up to large amounts.

GST/HST News 80 puts health care professionals on notice. 

The CRA's position is:

General Rule: Any basic health care service rendered to an individual by a health care professional that is specifically identified in Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act are exempt.  In other words, you find the category of health care service or health care professional in that Schedule by name or description.

According to the CRA, the following services by the following provincially regulated (licensed or otherwise certified) health care professionals rendered to individuals/patients are specifically identified in Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act are as a general rule exempt:

  • physicians,
  • dentists and orthodontists,
  • registered nurses, registered nursing assistants, licensed or registered practical nurses, registered psychiatric nurses,
  • optometrists,
  • chiropractors,
  • physiotherapists,
  • chiropodists,
  • audiologists,
  • speech-language pathologists,
  • occupational therapists,
  • psychologists,
  • podiatrists,
  • midwives,
  • dieticians,
  • social workers, and
  • dental hygienists.

Exception to General Rule: Any health care service provided by other therapists and health care workers are TAXABLE.  If you cannot find a category of health care professional or health care worker in Part I of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act, their service re likely taxable.

While these other therapists and workers may be professionals in their fields and they may be certified in  their province or territory, they are not identified in the Part II of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act. Therefore the Act’s exemptions do not apply to their services even where, for example, the service is similar to a service performed by an identified health care provider, such as a nurse or physiotherapist. Some examples of therapists and other health care workers whose
services are generally considered by the CRA to be taxable for GST/HST purposes are (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • assistants such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy assistants
  • social service workers (this is a separate profession from social workers)
  • laboratory technicians;
  • psychometrists;
  • nursing care aides;
  • polysomnographic technologists;
  • acupuncturists;
  • kinesiologists;
  • massage therapists;
  • naturopaths;
  • reflexologists;
  • homeopaths;
  • reiki therapists;
  • sports therapists;
  • rolfing therapists;
  • traditional Chinese medicine providers;
  • phlebotomists;
  • personal support workers.

Exception to Exception: Certain services provided by an health care professional or health care worker listed above may qualify as exempt when provided to an individual in an exempt health care setting. For example, supplies made by the operator of a nursing home of services rendered by nursing care aides are exempt when they form part of an exempt institutional health care service rendered to a resident of the nursing home. In addition, services similar to those rendered by the providers listed above may be exempt when rendered by an identified exempt health care provider. For instance, if physiotherapists are entitled under the provincial law that regulates physiotherapy services to perform acupuncture on their clients in the course of
providing physiotherapy services, then their physiotherapy services that involve acupuncture would be exempt.

There are many other exceptions to the general rule.  For example, health care services provided by the exempt list of professionals to corporations (not rendered to individuals or patients) are taxable.  Also, certain services (e.g., cosmetic procedures, teeth whitening, etc.) are taxable even when provided by a licensed professional.

GST/HST News 80 has been provided because the CRA auditors need tools when going to audit health care professionals.  There is an increased likelihood that health care professionals will be in the CRA national priority list for audits this year and in the coming years.

If you are not sure whether you are required to charge GST/HST or not, you should contact a GST/HST lawyer or professional. You may also write the CRA for a GST/HST ruling.

Disproving Audit Assumptions

As a general rule, the auditor's assumptions are considered to be correct and it is up to the taxpayer to rebut the assumptions -- that is, prove that the auditor's assumptions are not correct.  If you can knock out the assumptions, you may be able to knock out the assessment.

Taxpayers have said, and I cannot disagree, that this approach means that a taxpayers is considered to be "guilty" of making a sales tax mistake and must prove his/her innocence.

During a typical audit, the tax auditor interviews the taxpayer about his/her business operations and various factors that influence.  The auditor should also review evidence in addition to sales tax journals, sales receipts and other tax documents.  In most cases, the auditor understands the information that is provided.  If the auditor exercises sound judgment, the information provided by the taxpayer to the auditor will be considered to be prima facie evidence. Assumptions based on that information may or may not reasonable in the circumstances.  In any event, these assumptions will form the basis for most audit assessments.  This begs the question - What if the auditor's assumptions are wrong?

Once the auditor makes a judgment call about the assumptions used in making an assessment, the onus (burden) shifts onto the taxpayer to prove the auditor’s assumptions are incorrect. The taxpayer must bring documentation to this exercise.  Mere verbal bald statements will not suffice.  The taxpayer may generate new documents (supported by existing documents/evidence) to explain his/her alternative position --- but their subjective approach (it is always subjective and self-serving) will be scrutinized.  The taxpayer must be reasonable and methodical in disproving an auditor's assumptions. It can be done and is often done.

Sometimes it is possible to show that the auditor failed to gather sufficient information to make “reasonable” assumptions and, therefore, the auditor's assumptions are arbitrary and cannot be trusted.  The key to refuting the auditor’s assumptions is evidence, evidence and evidence.  The correct approach must be reasonable, transparent, and as subjective as possible. If you do not understand what constitute good evidence, an experienced sales tax practitioner can be a useful guide.  Quite frankly, if you cannot sell an experienced sales tax practitioner about the merits of your case, you may not be able to win an objection or appeal.  A fresh set of eyes who want to help may be just what you need.

Canada Revenue Agency Says Beneficiary (NOT Bare Trust) Should Be GST/HST Registered

It has been the Canada Revenue Agency's position for a long time (since 1993) that a bare trust should not register for GST/HST purposes.  Instead, the beneficiary or beneficiaries should register for GST/HST purposes.

This CRA's position is set out Technical Information Bulletin TIB-068 "Bare Trusts". The CRA believes the following:

  • a bare trust (also referred to as a naked trust) exists where a person (the trustee) is merely vested with the legal title to property and has no other duty to perform, responsibilities to carry out, or powers to exercise as trustee of the trust property;
  • the sole duty of a bare trustee will be to convey legal title to the trust property on demand by and according to the instructions of the beneficial owner(s);
  • the bare trustee does not have any independent power, discretion or responsibility pertaining to the trust property;
  • someone other than the bare trustee controls the property, carries on the commercial activity that relates to the property, and is the "real owner" of the property;
  • the person or persons with the real ownership of the property may be a "beneficiary", or a "settlor" under trust law;

The CRA states the following administrative policy:

Where a trust is viewed by the [CRA] as a bare trust, all powers and responsibilities to manage and/or dispose of the trust property would be reserved to the beneficial owner. As a result, the beneficial owner, rather than the bare trust, would be involved in commercial activities relating to the trust property. Unless the beneficial owner qualifies for small supplier status pursuant to section 148 of the Act, or under one of the exceptions listed in subsection 240(1) of the Act, registration for purposes of the GST would be required. Where there is more than one beneficial owner within the trust arrangement, the small supplier's threshold will be calculated on an individual basis, each beneficial owner being a separate person under the Act, unless the beneficial owners are associated persons for purposes of the Act.

....

[I]n a bare trust situation, since the beneficial owners are considered to be engaged in the commercial activities relating to the trust property, they would be required to account for the GST to the extent of their share of the trust property, to file GST returns, and generally to comply with the obligations placed on registrants under the Act.

Many real estate transactions involve bare trusts.  Those who not aware of the CRA's position likely have made a structuring mistake.  These mistakes may be corrected by way of a voluntary disclosure.

I have been involved in many real estate acquisition transactions and rental activities in which the beneficial owners of real property want to hide their identity from the world at large.  This becomes complicated despite reasonable reasons for hiding.  For example, many years ago, a client knew that the sellers of a desirable piece of real estate would not sell to my client (for all the wrong reasons) and wanted to purchase the property using a bare trust. 

The issue for the CRA is that the bare trust has nothing.  As a result, if GST/HST mistakes are made, it is difficult to assess the GST/HST owed to the government.  Since bare trusts are often used in the context of real property, the property at issue involves greater amounts of GST/HST. 

When a professional looks at the competing interests, the middle ground shows up as a small area.  There are solutions to this problem in many cases if and only if the beneficial owner is not too demanding.  That being said, if the bare trust registers for GST/HST purposes, the CRA may conduct an audit and issue an assessment.  Their policy is clearly stated in TIB-068.  The policy is restated in many other GST/HST memorandum on real property.  "I did not know the law" is not an acceptable excuse.

Gross Negligence Penalty: Intentional Failures and Omissions Can Be Costly

Pursuant to section 285 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada), the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may impose a gross negligence penalty when assessing intentional failures. That is, the taxpayer is perceived to have lied (a lie or an omission) by the CRA auditor and must be punished.  Section 285 provides in part:

Every person who knowingly, or under circumstances amounting to gross negligence, makes or participates in, assents to or acquiesces in the making of a false statement or omission in a return, application, form, certification, statement, invoice or answer ... made in respect of a reporting period or transaction is liable to a penalty of ... " [up to 25%].

What the exact penalty will be determined to be depends on the CRA auditor and a calculation.  The formula is set out in section 285.  What you might expect is the assessment plus interest plus another 25% of the assessed amount.

Justice D'Arcy of the Tax Court of Canada recently considered whether the gross negligence penalty applied in Thill v. The Queen (an income tax appeal).  The Income Tax Act (Canada) provision is similar to section 285 of the Excise Tax Act.  Justice D'Arcy confirmed the assessment of a gross negligence penalty.  He wrote:

[32] As Justice Strayer stated in Venne v. the Queen, 84 DTC 6247 (FCTD), [1984] C.T.C. 223:

. . . “Gross negligence" must be taken to involve greater neglect than simply a failure to use reasonable care. It must involve a high degree of negligence tantamount to intentional acting, an indifference as to whether the law is complied with or not. . .

[33] On the basis of the evidence before me, it is clear that the Appellant either intentionally failed to report the income at issue, or was completely indifferent as to whether the income should be reported. As a result, she knowingly, or under circumstances amounting to gross negligence, either made, or acquiesced in the making of, a false statement or omission on her tax returns for the 2005 and 2006 taxation years.

The decision is linked to an agreed statement of facts in this case.  I was not there in the courtroom.  Justice D'Arcy stated in his decision that he did not find the appellant to be credible --- this must have influenced his decision.  That being said, I cannot say that I agree that the appellant deserved the application of the gross negligence penalty (my view is based solely on my review of Justice D'Arcy's decision).  However, it is important to note that whether the gross negligence penalty should be applied is determined on a case-by-case basis.  The facts and the issues of the particular case are important in making the determination.

There is other case law that look at a higher level of wrongdoing.  It is beyond the scope of this post to summarize those cases in detail.

The purpose of this post in to warn that this 25% penalty exists and can hurt when applied.  I do not like seeing gross negligence penalties on assessments.  You will likely have to file a notice of objection and later a notice of appeal and appear before the Tax Court of Canada if an auditor assesses a gross negligence penalty.  In other words, the CRA are unlikely to reverse their gross negligence penalty without being told by a judge to reverse the penalty.  You will have to pay the assessment, including the gross negligence penalty, before you have your day in court.  The CRA, Collections, will be knocking on your door soon after the assessment.  In most cases where a gross negligence penalty has been assessed, the CRA, Collections officer has less sympathy and requires payment more quickly and is more likely to take collection actions (e.g. garnishment) because the gross negligence penalty says the assessed person was intentionally bad.  When you get to court, the judge may not agree with your version of the events and may confirm the assessment of the gross negligence penalty.

In the end, your intentional failures or omissions may cost you a lot of money (more than the GST/HST that was the underlying amount owed). When you take a gamble in the GST/HST arena, think about the potential cost of the risk.  If you have been assessed a gross negligence penalty, know that the fight with the CRA will continue to cost you money.

Ontario Retail Sales Tax Audits

Despite harmonization, Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) continues to be important because auditors are verifying compliance with ORST laws occurred prior to July 1, 2010.  The ORST rate was 8% and the normal audit period is 4 years (but can be longer for sales tax collected and not remitted and any misrepresentation attributable to neglect, carelessness or willful default). As a result ,the assessment period remains open for those who were in the ORST system prior to July 1, 2010 (or should have been in the system).

It is a MUST to resolve as many sales tax issues with the auditor during the audit because it gets REALLY expensive to resolve issues after the audit is finalized AND it takes a REALLY long time. 

First, it is important to know that an assessed taxpayer (including assessed vendors) must pay 100% of the amount assessed or post security for 100% of the amount assessed and then fight to get the money back.

Second, at the present time, if you have to file a notice of objection (an informal appeal), it takes OVER 19 months for the objection to be assigned to an officer.

Third, after the objection gets assigned to an appeals officer, they will do everything in their power to drag the process and cause the taxpayer to spend a lot of money on lawyers.  The Government's strategy is to get the taxpayer to walk away from the collected assessed amount.

Fourth, it regularly takes years for the appeals officer to make a determination and in over 80% of the time, the appeals officer will confirm the assessment stating such things as "I am not a lawyer and do not know the law", I do not know anything about contract law", "If you do not promise to give up your right to an appeal, I will confirm the entire amount", etc.). 

Fifth, the Ministry of the Attorney General's office, which handles formal appeals to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, does not have lawyers dedicated to Ontario retail sales tax files.  It is not their top priority to move sales tax cases to Court.

In my experience, every attempt is made to extend the length of time the dispute is ongoing because the Government of Ontario has the taxpayers' money.

If you are being audited by the Ministry of Revenue, contact a lawyer to help at the time of the audit.  Otherwise, you will be dealing with the problem of an assessment for a long time.  Please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak (416-760-8999) if you require assistance.

Sales Tax Audit Tip - Ask to Include the Auditor's Manager or Senior Manager

First, I should say, DO NOT CALL WOLF. Asking to include to the auditor's manager or the senior manager at a meeting with you (the vendor or taxpayer) and the auditor should be used in limited (but greater than occasional) circumstances. If you ask for a meeting, the general rule is that a meeting must be arranged.

In this blog post, I focus on Ontario retail sales tax. However, the concept also applies to goods and services tax (GST).

I have asked for a meeting with the auditor's manager or senior manager when there is a fundamental disagreement of the applicability to a taxing provision to a client's situation. I have asked for a meeting when the auditor does not appear to understand the facts (often the facts are complex) and I feel that the auditor is going to raise an assessment incorrectly. I ask for a meeting with the auditor's manager when there is a serious personality conflict between my client and the auditor (it has happened) and I feel that the auditor may be biased and intent on punishing my client.

I do not ask to speak to the auditor's manager to intimidate the auditor - it does not work. I do not ask to speak to the auditor's manager regarding little issues. I do not ask to speak to the auditor's manager on the first day of the audit. I do not ask to speak to the auditor's manager when my client is clearly in the wrong.

In Ontario, if a retail sales tax assessment is issued, then the auditor's job is complete and the only recourse a vendor or taxpayer has is to file a notice of objection. It currently takes over 2 years for a notice of objection to be reviewed by the Ontario Ministry of Revenue Tax Appeals Branch. Usually, the tax assessment must be paid within 18 months and interest continues to accrue. For this reason, I feel it is my role to make sure the auditor gets the assessment correct.

If I receive an audit summary (which is a summary of the auditor's findings), which usually precedes the actual assessment, I ask for the reasons for the assessment. When there is a disagreement over the law or an interpretation of the law, an administrative statement or a court decision, I ask to speak to the auditor's manager, who usually has more discretion and more experience. Sometimes I for the auditor to write Tax Advisory for a ruling and that I will help with the facts so that the answer received is more likely to be correct (does not always happen that way).

There is a fine line between being assertive and aggressive, proactive and reactive. That being said, recently, managers have agreed with me (when I have known that i am correct) and some assessments have been reduced (1) Case 1: from over $1 million to close to $0, (2) Case 2: from approximately $500,000 to about $25,000 and (3) Case 3: by over $300,000. These results obviously depended on the particular circumstances of the file.

If you are in the middle of a bad audit, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-760-8999.

Some Payments Made By Limited Partnership To The General Partner Are Subject To GST/HST

First, it is important to note that not all payments made by a limited partnership to the general partner are taxable from a goods and services tax (GST) / harmonized sales tax (HST) perspective.  The determination of whether GST/HST is payable/collectible can only be determined based on the facts. 

That being said, the belief that any and all payments from limited partnership to the general partner are outside the reach of GST/HST is incorrect.  The reason why it is important to consider the GST/HST status of such payments is that the general partner may be assessed by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for failure to collect and remit GST/HST (or the limited partnership may be assessed by the CRA for failure to pay GST/HST) on certain amounts.  With the implementation of HST, the failure to consider the GST/HST status of payments increased from a 5% error in Ontario to a 13% error (from a 5% error in British Columbia to a 12% error and from a 13% error in Nova Scotia to a 15% error).

As discussed in my post on June 7, 2011 "Partners & Partnerships: Transfers Are Tricky", partners are required to charge, collect and remit GST/HST in respect of supplies of property or a service to the partnership otherwise than in the course of the partnership’s activities. Partners are not required to charge, collect and remit GST/HST in respect of supplies property or a service to the partnership that are provided in the in the course of the partnership’s activities.

The CRA takes the position that with respect to certain amounts of consideration paid by the limited partnership to the general partner, the general partner may be considered to provide property/services "otherwise than in the course of partnership activities".

The CRA also takes the position that the structuring of payments by the limited partnership to the general partner is important.  There are many payments/distributions/amounts of consideration that the CRA may look at in this context and it is beyond the scope of this blog article to address every one detail.  That being said, the CRA has seen structures whereby the general partner is paid amounts prior to the determination of profits and losses of the partnership and scrutinizes these payments.  The issue is whether any amount paid in such a manner is an expense for property provided or services rendered otherwise than in the course of partnership activities.

As discussed in my June 7, 2011 blog article, if a partner (in this context of this blog post, a general partner) performs a type of service in the marketplace or to more than one limited partnership/entity, the CRA may take the position that the services rendered otherwise than in the course of partnership activities.  For example, if a general partner provides management services to more than one entity, it may be considered to be a management services company and the amounts paid by the limited partnership to the general partner may be considered to be taxable.

General partners who did not seek GST/HST advice in connection with the structuring of the limited partnership may have missed this issue and should revisit the GST/HST status of the various payments of consideration.  This is especially important if the limited partnership/general partner operates in the financial services sector, health care sector, residential real estate sector or MUSH sector because it is less likely that the mistakes will be in the context of wash transactions (that is, there is an offsetting input tax credit to reduce the exposure).

"Assessment Avoidance" Has A Positive Ring

Normally, using the word "avoidance" in the presence of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is a bad move.  They jump to negative conclusions that the taxpayer is doing something illegal or that the CRA is not receiving its fair share of tax.

However, I have been thinking about compliance in a different light.  GST/HST compliance is "assessment avoidance".  A taxpayer or registrant "avoids" a negative experience (and most taxpayers think of an audit as a negative experience) by complying with tax laws.  A taxpayer or registrant who does not make any miskates avoids and assessment.  A taxpayer or registrant who obtains an advance GST/HST ruling avoids an assessment if the taxpayer/registrant acts in accordance with the ruling.  A taxpayer/registrant avoids an assessmnet by monitoring the CRA's administrative policies on relevant subjects.

Will it be possible to give the word "avoidance" a positive meaning?  I am not sure.  But, it will be fun trying to take a positive approach for a change.

The CBSA's 2011 Post-Release Verification Target List May Result in GST Assessments Too

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) identifies categories of goods for post-release targeted verifications on an annual basis.  This list is important for importers of goods for customs purposes and also GST purposes.  If the valuation is too low, the CBSA will increase the value for customs duties purposes , which results in an increase in value for GST purposes.  Additional GST will be calculated and assessed and interest on that GST debt from the date of importation.

Post-release verifications occur after goods are released by the CBSA and are intended to verify the information provided by businesses when goods are reported for customs purposes (compliance with Canada's customs laws).  There are three main types of post-release verifications.

A) Random Post-Release Verifications: These verifications are random. The CBSA randomly selects importers from their records and conducts an verification to measure compliance with Canada's customs laws and revenue seepage. In other words, the importer's number just came up.

B) Targeted Post-Release Verifications: These verifications are not random. The importer is selected due information provided to the CBSA concerning non-compliance with Canada's customs laws.

C) Post-Release Verifications Based on National Priorities: These verifications occur as a result of the CBSA setting national priorities that are determined through a risk-based assessment and evergreen process. The CBSA picks H.S. tariff codes on an annual basis to target for verifications and semi-randomly picks importers of those goods for a targeted verification. Often the importers with significant volumes of the goods are selected for verification and importers who have not been audited recently. The CBSA is asking the question whether the importing community is making mistakes with respect to a particular type of goods.

The CBSA's Post-Release Verification list for 2011 are:

Type of Goods H.S. Codes Comments
Gloves Headings 40.15, 42.03, 61.16, 62.16,39.26, 42.03

On list previously and significant non-compliance identified

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Cotton Yarn Headings 52.05, 52.06, 52.07

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Furniture Parts Heading 94.03

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Organic surface-active agents - soap and other than soap Headings 34.01 and 34.02

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Copper and articles thereof Various goods under Chapter 74

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Stone vs. articles of stone 25.14, 25.15, 25.16, 68.01, 68.02, 6803.00.90, 6803.00.10.10

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Juice products Heading 20.09

On list previously and significant non-compliance identified

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Textile Bags 3923.29.90.90

Focus of verification will be tariff classification & tariff treatment

Ski apparel Various goods under chapters 39, 61 and 62 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Parts of gas turbines 8411.99.20.11, 8411.99.20.19, 8411.99.290.90 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Light-duty automotive goods Various god under chapter 87 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Bulk shipment of ore Chapter 36 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Plastic household goods Heading 39.24 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Motor car, bus and lorry tires Various goods under heading 40.11 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Video recording apparatus 8521.90.90.00 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Pumps for liquids 8413.11.10, 8413.19.10, 8413.70.99 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Article of jewelery and parts Heading 71.13 Focus of verification will be valuation of goods
Mattresses Heading 54.07, and Chapters 55 and 60 Focus of verification will be origin of goods
Electric generators Heading 85.01 Focus of verification will be origin of goods
Vegetable fats 1516.20.90.41, 157.90.99.00 Focus of verification will be origin of goods
Pumps for liquids 8413.11.10, 8413.19.10, 8413.70.99 Focus of verification will be origin of goods
Cocoa powder 1805.00.00, 1806.10.10, 1806.10.90 Focus of verification will be origin of goods

This does not mean that all importers who import the goods on the 2011 hit list will be audited. It does mean that some importers of the good on the list will be audited in 2011/2012. Importers of the goods on the list should conduct their own internal verifications and determine whether they are importing goods in compliance with previously issued ruling letters, case law, CBSA policy and other statements of the law. If an importer identifies errors prior to being contacted by the CBSA for a verification, that importer may be permitted to make a voluntary disclosure of its non-compliance and the CBSA may waive the penalties that would have been payable if the CBSA discovered the non-compliance during a verification.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-760-8999.

Judge Gives Lesson in Record-Keeping

In the recent Tax Court of Canada decision in Malik v. The Queen, Judge Hershfield was clearly frustrated by the record-keeping (or lack thereof) of Mr. Malik, a resident of Canada of Pakistani origin.  Judge Hershfield's written reasons also demonstrate that the testimony of the Appellant lacked credibility.  The decision is an interesting read from the perspective of watching a judge struggle to be fair when he knew that the taxpayer was spinning facts.

There are many lessons to be taken from this decision.  Judge Hershfield wrote a number of paragraphs dealing with record-keeping in the Canadian tax system.  Other taxpayers can benefit from reading the lessons.  Two of my favorite passages are:

[18] ...The Canadian tax system is based on a self-reporting system. This applies to new Canadians, who venture into new business activities in Canada, as much as it applies to seasoned business persons. The lack of proper accounting records and supporting documents, in this case, has not only made it impossible to determine with any degree of certainty the actual business income of the Appellant but it is further blurred by an organizational structure emanating in Pakistan. Such arrangements must be documented in such a way so as to identify with certainty the legal nature of the relationships of the parties as well as their income entitlements so as to permit consistent and legally effective income and expense allocations amongst the various jurisdictions in which these enterprises operate.

...

[31] One last comment on the reporting obligations and the bank deposit methodology used in this case lest the Appellant has not learned something in the course of these assessments and the prosecution of his appeals. Two things should be obvious from this Judgment. One is that both the Appellant’s domestic and foreign business arrangements need to be organized and structured, in a legal manner, with appropriate documentation in place to support the filing position arising from that legal structure. Secondly, a bookkeeper or accountant is going to sooner or later have to show the Appellant that business bank accounts need be segregated to account for all business transactions and that each and every bank entry requires a support ledger that indicates the nature of the entry and the background to it. Behind that ledger are the physical documents that support or evidence the explanation of the entry. Without the latter supporting documentation, ledgers will become questionable and will lose their value in supporting a particular treatment in respect of bank statement entries.
 

Continue Reading...

Can A CRA Auditor Ask For Lawyer's Files When Taxpayer Deducts Lawyer's Bill As Business Expense?

The answer is contained in the recent Tax Court of Canada interim decision in Richard A. Kanan Corporation v. The Queen.  In this case, a tricky Canada Revenue Agency auditor would not allow deductions taken by a dentist for legal expenses because the invoices were stated to be "for services rendered" and the auditor was not allowed to see the entire file.  Judge Campbell tries to strike a balance in her decision between the divergent interests.  This case is a MUST READ for all lawyers who provide advice to businesses (especially all tax lawyers).

Judge Campbell considered two questions:

1) Can the Appellant meet its onus without disclosing privileged information?

2) If the Appellant relies on privileged information to meet its onus, will an implied waiver be found over its entire legal file?

The short answer is that the Appellant MUST provide information about the legal services in order to justify the deduction.  However, auditors CANNOT go on fishing expeditions through a lawyer's files.

With respect to the first question, Judge Campbell concluded succinctly in the end of the interim decision:

"When a taxpayer deducts an expense from his or her income, he or she may be called upon to justify that deduction – to convince the Minister, or failing that, the Court, that it is a properly deductible expense. Where the expense is a lawyer’s fee, the proof that is required will often be covered by solicitor-client privilege. While these Interim Reasons are not intended to provide the CRA with a licence to access privileged information, it is clear that a taxpayer who presents a claim for deductions in a return must also accept that at least some disclosure will be necessary to properly dispose of that claim."
 

With respect to the second question, Judge Campbell concluded succinctly at the end of the interim decision:

"...a taxpayer should not be forced to reveal the specifics of its legal advice, or to turn over the lawyer’s entire file. In addition to limited disclosure, the lawyer or the Court may edit documents to remove non-essential material, and the Court may impose conditions to ensure the confidentiality of the information. Further, taxpayers must be allowed to provide the proof that is required without the risk that they will be found to have waived the privilege entirely."
 

Judge Campbell has clearly recognized in her decision the importance of solicitor-client privilege.  She writes:

"To find otherwise would create an unreasonable and unacceptable rule. Taxpayers would effectively have the choice of foregoing a proper deduction for legal expenses or revealing to CRA the entirety of their lawyer’s files. Such a rule would be inconsistent with the status accorded to solicitor-client privilege as a substantive and fundamental civil right, and a privilege which must be as close to absolute as possible."

While the decision says nothing about non-lawyer consultants and accountants who provide tax advice to taxpayers, it is worth noting that the above decision would not cover such advisors.  With respect to non-lawyer advisors, the Canada Revenue Agency may ask for the entire file (with the exception of solicitor-client work product if the non-lawyer hired a lawyer in connection with the advice) to review regarding the deductibility of an expense.

While the decision does not relate to input tax credits for GST/HST purposes, the principles would likely be applied in a similar manner. 

Help Judges Help Taxpayers: Why Small Business Record Keeping is Important

It is important for small business owners to keep good records.  The recent decision by Judge Woods of the Tax Court of Canada in Antwi v. The Queen makes the point very well.  It is best to provide a large excerpt of this short case:

[3]  While documentary evidence is not always necessary to prove a taxpayer’s case, here it was crucial as the Appellant herself was unable to explain how the sole proprietorship had paid for the supplies which she admitted had been purchased. The best she could do was to offer various hypothetical explanations: perhaps she had paid for some of the supplies out of her employment income (even though the value of the supplies was more than double her entire income for the year); other amounts could have been paid by her two brothers either in cash or by credit card (but no evidence of their having done so was presented); sometimes, friends and relatives helped out with payments (but no details of who they were or what amounts they might have contributed).

[4] Not surprisingly, some seven years after the fact the Appellant could not remember specifically what amounts were paid by whom for what. And not having retained the source documents or kept records of the transactions in issue, she had no way of reconstructing the sole proprietorship’s business activities in 2004 and 2005. A further complication lay in the fact that while it was not reported to the tax authorities as such, the sole proprietorship was apparently intended to be the Appellant’s mother’s business; the Appellant and her two brothers provided the funds for its start-up and operation; their mother, the hands-on work in the store. According to the Appellant, because her mother had difficulty with English and had no previous retail experience, she made many errors entering sales into the cash register; for example, she might enter too many zeros so that a sale that was actually for $10.00 would appear as $1,000. Because the Appellant was busy with her own employment, she was not able to be at the store to assist her mother or to correct the mistakes that inevitably occurred. Thus, to the extent that any records did exist, it is unlikely they were very reliable. In any event, although the Appellant admitted that the invoices, cash register tapes and banking statements she had provided to the auditor and Appeals Officer had been returned to her, she was unable to say, as of the date of this hearing, where those documents might currently be found. Finally, in response to her agent’s question in direct examination as to whether inventory had ever been counted for the business, the Appellant answered in the negative.

[5] I agree with counsel for the Respondent that the Appellant’s situation falls squarely within the circumstances described by Bowman, CJ in 620247 Ontario Ltd. v. Canada 1995 CarswellNat 27 at paragraphs 8 and 12:

8.a. The assessment is based upon the assumption that the bank deposits are about as accurate an indication of the sales as one is likely to get, -given that the appellant kept no books and its only record of sales was the sales slips, which were incomplete and essentially in an unsatisfactory state. It may be a fair surmise that some of the bank deposits came from sources other than sales but the evidence simply does not establish how much. In a case of this type, which involves an attempt by the Department of National Revenue to make a detailed reconstruction of the taxpayer's business, it is incumbent upon the taxpayer who challenges the accuracy of the Department's conclusions to do so with a reasonable degree of specificity. That was not done here. A bald assertion that the sales could not have been that high, or that some unspecified portion of the bank deposits came from other sources is insufficient. I am left with the vague suspicion that the chances are that the sales figures computed by the Minister may be somewhat high, but within a range of indeterminate magnitude. This is simply not good enough to justify the allowing of the appeal. If I sent the matter back for reconsideration and reassessment the same evidentiary impasse would result. I must therefore conclude that the appellant has failed to meet the onus of showing that the assessment is wrong.

 

 

12 Precisely the same problem arises [with the challenge to the Minister’s GST assessment]. There may well be errors in the Minister's calculations, but given the unsatisfactory state of the appellant's records it is difficult to see how he could have made a different determination and while I may not be bound to apply the same rather rigid criteria evidently demanded by the Minister there is no evidence upon which I can arrive at a different figure.

[6] The former Chief Justice ultimately concluded that given the lack of books and records, the auditor acted on the best evidence he could find. The sole distinction between the case above and the Appellant’s situation is that I am unable to find any fault with the assessing officials. A review of the schedules in the Replies and Tab 7 of the Respondent’s Book of Documents[1] suggests that the officials thoroughly reviewed whatever documentation was made available to them and where supported, allowed adjustments in the Appellant’s favour. After that point, however, the same sort of evidentiary deficiencies that hindered the Appellant’s case at the hearing precluded any further revisions to the reassessments.

[7] In short, there is simply is not enough evidence before me to justify interfering with the Minister’s reassessments. In reaching this conclusion, I have some sympathy for the Appellant who seems to have put her faith in advisors who have not served her particularly well. On the other hand, the Appellant struck me as an intelligent young woman quite capable of foreseeing the risks of engaging in a business for two years without maintaining at least basic records with some accuracy and regularity.

The morale of this case is that the organized taxpayer has information that can be provided to the judge.  The judge needs evidence to overturn the decision of the Canada Revenue Agency.  Judges want to be fair.  Help judges help you.

GST/HST Taxable Independent Contractor vs Non-Taxable Employee

When I say "taxable", I am talking about goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales tax (HST).  I am not talking about income tax in this blog post when I say "taxable".

The recent Tax Court of Canada decision in Craigmyle v. M.N.R. reminds us that planning is required for a business to claim that a person who is paid by the business is an independent service provider and not an employee (or vice versa).  Generally speaking, in the context of GST/HST, it is better that an individual is an employee because labour of employees is not subject to GST/HST.  An employer does not pay GST/HST to the employee and the employee does not need to register for GST/HST purposes.  During an audit, the assessment exposure/risk does not include the salary accounts in the general ledger.

That being said, a business may decide to look at other legal requirements when deciding how to structure the business (the GST/HST does not operate in a vacuum).  Since an employer has Canada pension plan and employment insurance payment obligations and income tax withholding obligations in regards to employees, the business may choose to retain the services of independent service providers and pay GST/HST on invoices submitted by the independent service providers for their services (if they are registered for GST/HST purposes).  The business must make a business decision.

If the business hires independent service providers, it should to ensure that independent service providers who make taxable sales in excess of $30,000 (the small supplier threshold) register for GST/HST purposes and charge GST/HST.  The business will have to be mindful of its own GST/HST assessment exposure/risk as a purchaser for non-payment of GST/HST.

The Craigmyle case deals with Canada pension plan and employment insurance.  In this case, the Canada Revenue Agency determined that the individual was an employee and the Tax Court of Canada disagreed --- the individual was an independent contractor.

The Tax Court of Canada examined what the Courts have held to constitute a contract of service. Based on Wiebe Door Services Ltd. v M.N.R. (F.C.A.) [Wiebe Door], and accepted and expanded by subsequent cases, the following test is applied focusing on the total relationship of the parties with the analysis centered around four elements:

(a) degree of control and supervision;

(b) ownership of tools;

(c) chance of profit; and 

(d) risk of loss.

Each situation has unique facts because the issue is the characterization of a relationship. Each case must be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

Business that are engaged in exempt activities for GST/HST purposes are less likely to structure the business around independent service providers because the GST/HST cost is generally unrecoverable (in Ontario that would be 13% on the service provider's fees).  Businesses that are engaged in zero-rated or taxable activities can recover the GST/HST paid to independent service providers.  The focus would be on the assessment risk in the event that mistakes are made or the Canada Revenue Agency has a different opinion concerning the characterization of the expense.

Are Women Business Owners Treated Differently Than Men During Sales Tax Audits?

To my knowledge, there have been no studies on this topic.  If I could ask Shelia Fraser for one favour, it would be to ask the above question. Women are increasingly starting small to medium sized businesses and are taking important roles in large businesses. What I want to know is if women business owners are treated differently than male counterparts in the setting of a sales tax audit.

I have represented many women business owners whose business has undergone a sales tax audit.  Women are generally more organized and prepared for the audit.  The reason is that the letter informing of the upcoming audit is stressful to women business owners. Some women business owners are more emotional in their response to the letter.  Why wouldn't you feel stress?  Many women started their business to provide for a family.  This means that an unfair assessment takes food and opportunities away from the children of the women business owner.  The lioness will protect her cubs.

I have seen good auditors and bad auditors.  I have seen some bad auditors belittle the women business owner.  I have heard bad auditors make personal comments about women business owners in their presence and these comments have no relevance in the context of the audit.  I have seen bad auditors demand documents and make negative comments about the time taken to respond to requests.  I have seen bad auditors treat women business owners as a waitress or secretary.  I have seen bad auditors ignore the answers of a women business owner and seek out a male employee to answer questions.  I have seen bad auditors misstate the law or the tax authority's policies knowing that it would create fear or feelings of powerlessness.  I have seen bad auditors attempt to break the spirit of the women business owner in order to cause audit mistakes and misstatements that can be used against the women business owner in the assessment and justify the auditor's decisions. 

When these bad auditors behave badly, the business owner should ask for a meeting with the auditor's supervisor or manager.  The auditor should provide the name of his/her supervisor and the contact details.  If the auditor will not provide that information, the business owner should call the tax authority to obtain it.  Often it is possible to get information about the GST/HST auditor's supervisor on the Government of Canada Employee Directory website.  As a word of warning, you have to be careful when taking this step and there must be real evidence of treatment outside the normal range for an audit (never a pleasant experience for women and men) or evidence of a disagreement that requires a supervisor's intervention.

While self-serving, the assistance of a sales tax lawyer also helps.

This blog article is for all the women business owners who have had an audit experience and would like to share their lessons learned with other women.

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Sales Tax Audits and Paranoia

I am often reminded of President Ronald Reagan's famous quote when talking to a person who has received a "nice" letter from the tax authorities informing them about an upcoming sales tax audit of their business - "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

The truth is that a sales tax auditor is coming to visit to find non-compliance with sales tax laws and yes, "they really are out to get you".  They may phrase their intentions in the positive.  They may say that they are there to confirm compliance with sales tax laws. However, it is my experience that most young auditors are eager to show their bosses in the tax authorities that they are good at their job, which is finding the mistakes.  The older auditors are jaded and they take the Dr. House approach "everybody lies".  There are some auditors who have industry specific knowledge and a positive approach (I can recall an Ontario retail sales tax auditor who audited a bar owner client 4-5 years back), but they are the special ones.  This category of auditors know that no one is perfect and they deal with the imperfections with dignity and respect.  They show respect for taxpayer fairness (like taxpayers are treated the same) and fair treatment of taxpayers.

Sales tax auditors ask in their nice letter concerning the audit for information to be available for their review when they arrive to conduct the audit.  During the audit they ask questions and ask for more documents to be made available for their review.  I always recommend that a client organize all the requested documents prior to the arrival of the auditor and for the client to have those documents in folders on the table/desk/work area the auditor will use during the audit.  I also recommend that the client undertake their own sample review two weeks before the scheduled audit to find the mistakes before the auditor. This is the equivalent of looking under the bed for monsters.

If I am called in at the time the letter arrives, I ask the same questions that the auditor will ask about the business.  If there is time, I help the client write a customized memo to the auditor about their business, the sales tax laws that are applicable and the tax authority's administrative statements and ruling letters that are applicable. This is the equivalent of becoming comfortable in ones surroundings and knowing how to respond to dangers that may arise.

A business owner should not be paranoid, but should be vigilant.  The business owner can be pro-active.  The business owner can participate in the audit process in a way that reduces the stress and feeling of lack of control.

For how long will the CRA be lenient regarding HST implementation errors?

The answer is "for not much longer".  It will be hard to argue that the CRA should be lenient in regards to any harmonized sales tax ("HST") implementaion errors --- but, I can gurantee you that every lawyer who practices in this error will try.  We have a number of good reasons to request leniency.

That is not the point of this posting.  The point I am trying to make is that if you are not sure that your implementation efforts are correct, it would be prudent to conduct an internal audit and check your GST/HST systems.  Finding errors before the one-year anniversary of HST in Ontario and British Columbia is better than not asking the question at all.  Do not be afraid of what you might find -- be more concerned about not finding the errors and being audited by an unforgiving CRA auditor.  The CRA may be lenient if you conduct an internal audit and adjust systems before the one year anniversary.  They may see this as a sign of compliance and of acting as a "good" suppler/purchaser/consumer.

What I can tell you is that if you undertake an internal audit and find the errors and fix the system errors, you will have good argument that you deserve lenient treatment.  Mom used to say "actions speak louder than words".

People Are Careful When Writing A Confession, Why So Little Care When Completing A HST Voluntary Disclosure Form?

I honestly do not know the answer to this question.  I am baffled when a client comes to me after they have completed and sent to the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") their voluntary disclosure form in which they admit to a mistake in their harmonized sales tax (HST) compliance. They have already confessed their errors.  Then, when they see the HST assessment, the do not agree with the number and have a list of reasons.

I have been asked on many occasions to help correct the CRA auditor's misunderstanding of the facts - the same facts provided by the client in writing to the CRA in the voluntary disclosure form.  I cannot count the number of times a client has said to me "I did not mean to write that", "I should have been more careful in what I wrote", "I did not verify that information and it is in fact wrong", "I did not think about that", and "I just wrote something quickly".  I am asked to "fix this" ---  and, I have my work cut out for me.

Voluntary disclosures are similar to a "confession", albeit a voluntary disclosure is not often relaying criminal activities.  However, it is possible that a person will write information in a voluntary disclosure that could be used in a criminal investigation under the Excise Tax Act.  If you would seek the help of a lawyer when writing a confession, then seek the help of a lawyer when completing a voluntary disclosure form.  If you would take time to investigate facts and write, edit, review, redraft and reconsider the writing of a confession, then take time when completing a voluntary disclosure form. If you would take time to understand the consequences of writing a confession, then take time to understand the consequences of completing a voluntary disclosure.  If you would not want to cause a misunderstanding when writing a confession, then avoid misunderstandings when completing a voluntary disclosure form.

If you do not understand the law, you may miss opportunities to raise good facts that may be used to your benefit --- your actions have not all been bad have they?  You may not convey the important information and facts that support defences (such as the due diligence defence).  You may miss opportunities to support lower penalties.  You may miss opportunities to limit interest if there has been an officially induced error. 

Did you know that the CRA audits to "net tax" or do you even know what I mean by that?  You may be able to identify amounts that the CRA owes you and when you calculate "net tax" for the period in which you owe GST/HST, you may be able to subtract amounts you can show the government owes you.  There is a lot more to consider than "getting things off your chest".

Now that I have said my piece - here is the voluntary disclosure form.  The CRA calls this form "VOLUNTARY DISCLOSURES PROGRAM (VDP): TAXPAYER AGREEMENT", do not let the name fool you or cause you to be complacent.

 

What is the worst GST/HST infraction?

The worst goods and services tax (GST) / harmonized sales tax (HST) infraction is collecting HST and not remitting the GST/HST to the Receiver General of Canada.  The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) considers this to be on the same level of wrongdoing as stealing the government's money.  Many auditors say to registrants and non-registrants who charge HST who do not file GST/HST returns after collecting GST/HST from recipients  or who file returns without the remittance cheque that they are stealing the government's money.

GST/HST is a tax on consumers or on consumption.  Generally speaking, businesses do not bear the ultimate burden of the GST/HST.  However, the Government of Canada relies on suppliers to collect GST/HST from recipients of taxable supplies.  If a business takes advantage of the fact that they collect GST/HST and keep the government's money, the system breaks down.

This is why there is no limitation period for this type of infraction.  If a person collected GST from a recipient in 2001 and did not remit it to the Receiver General, that person could be audited and assessed today.  If the person is a corporation and still in business, the CRA could assess a director if the money cannot be recovered from the corporation.  If the person is a corporation and no longer is in business, the CRA could assess a former director so long as the director did not cease to be a director more than 2 years ago.  If the person is a partnership, the CRA may assess one or more of the partners.  If the person is a sole proprietorship, the individual may be assessed.

When a supplier discovers that it collected tax and failed to remit it (for example a bookkeeper was stealing the money) over a lengthy period of time and makes a voluntary disclosure, the CRA may ask the person to go back in their records to the very beginning (at least until the start of GST or the systematic failure).  The interest charges on the unremitted GST/HST can exceed the amount not remitted (I have seen theis many times).

The person who does not register for GST/HST purposes and who falsely informs recipients that they are registered, gives a false GST/HST number, and takes the GST/HST money for themselves is arguably the worst of the worst type of offender.  Persons who do this may be prosecuted criminally for fraud and other GST/HST specific offences. Persons who collect GST/HST from recipients and just keep the money may also be prosecuted under the Excise Tax Act and the CRA publicly announces convictions.

Some businesses that commit this type of infraction have "good" explanations after their wrongdoing is discovered.  It is not easy to convince the CRA that the decisions are not blameworthy.  If you think that you will just tell the CRA a reasonable story and they will not issue an assessment for the tax not remitted plus penalties plus interest, you are living in a fantasy world.  There are few very good explanations that satisfy the conditions of the fairness policy or that pass the smell test.

For this reason, if you discover (not in the context of an audit because that would be too late) that you have collected GST/HST and failed to remit it, the best course of action is to make a voluntary disclosure (not the type within the CRA's voluntary disclosure program but voluntary in that you come forward on your own initiative).  If you admit your wrongdoing to the CRA (with a lawyer preferably) and pay the GST/HST collected and not previously remitted (or make arrangements to pay the amounts owed) and penalties and interest, the CRA may not pursue criminal charges.  There is a risk of criminal charges even if you come forward voluntarily and that is why making a voluntary disclosure with a lawyer's assistance is prudent.

For more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-760-8999.  I am a lawyer and our discussions will be subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Ontario Auditors Should Not Assess Vendor for ORST Paid By Purchaser

Ontario retail sales tax auditors are busy auditing vendors who applied for vendor permit numbers prior to July 1, 2010 (prior to the implementation of HST). The sales side audits sometimes disclose that a vendor failed to charge ORST to a purchaser (often years after the fact).

I cannot count the times a vendor has asked me if the auditor can collect the same Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) from both a vendor and a purchaser.  The answer is "NO".  If a purchaser has been assessed and paid the ORST in connection with a transaction with a vendor, the vendor cannot be assessed the same ORST.  This would be double tax.  This would be the government taking advantage of both parties to the oversight.

Section 20(3) of the Retail Sales Tax Act provides:

"The Minister may assess against every vendor who has failed to collect tax that the vendor is responsible to collect under this Act a penalty equal to the amount of tax that the vendor failed to collect, but, where the Minister has assessed such tax against the purchaser from whom it should have been collected, the Minister shall not assess the vendor." (emphasis added)

I often advise vendors to call their purchasers to see if they have been assessed ORST with respect to their transactions.  If the answer is "yes", the vendor needs to receive information to provide to the auditor --- and quickly. 

I was surprised recently to learn that an auditor was busy auditing a vendor and discovered that it had not charged ORST systematically on goods that the vendor thought was exempt.  The Ministry was auditing the purchasers at the same time.  I provided information to the auditors concerning the overlapping audits as the vendor and purchasers worked out how to deal with their ORST issue.

If you ask the auditor to check to see if they have assessed purchasers, the auditors usually decline (okay, the appropriate word may be "refuse").  That being said, I have met a few nice auditors in my day and, when the transactions involve only a few big relationships, the auditor has (in limited cases) obliged.

What Happens When Good Companies Make Mistakes?

Some companies/businesses are very compliance-conscious when it comes to sales tax.  They attempt to do everything by the book.  However, with the changes to harmonized sales tax and the late breaking changes to the sales tax laws, some issues may have fallen through the cracks.

Other companies have hired experienced sales tax staff to ensure accounting records are accurate and GST/HST returns are filed on time.  But, these employees deserve their 4 weeks vacation or have sick days from time to time.  Someone else takes over their desk and mistakes can occur.

Some companies conduct internal audits of their sales tax reporting mechanisms every year.  When such mistakes are discovered, the entity may make be able to make adjusting entries (such as claiming an overlooked input tax credit) or may file an amended return (if permitted to adjust the amount of GST/HST collected).  However, when the mistakes are discovered later in time or are systemic in nature or are the result of changes to the law that were not understood in time, it may be necessary for the company to make a voluntary disclosure.

A voluntary disclosure must be made before the tax authorities come knocking on your door.  If the tax authorities are already planning an audit, they may not accept any disclosure as voluntary in nature.

A voluntary disclosure must be complete and may be subject to an audit.  Think of a voluntary disclosure as you doing the auditor's job for them.  You do the calculations that they would do if they came in to conduct an audit.  By taking this approach, if the tax authorities decide to verify your voluntary disclosure, they can quickly determine that you have been as thorough as they would have been.

This Audit Comes With A Warning

Recently, I was called in to assist a vendor who had a visit from an Ontario retail sales tax ("ORST") auditor on a Tuesday and the auditor indicated that the assessment would be issued on Wednesday.  What was different about this audit was that the issues were complex and it was so very quick. A year ago, this audit would have taken months to complete.  A year ago, the auditor would give the vendor time to review an audit assessment before pushing the "issue assessment" button.  A year ago, the auditor would have allowed the complex issues to be debated and possibly would have requested guidance from tax advisory on the complex issues.  Not this year ....

What was different is that this auditor had arrived with the conclusions already formed.  This meant two things: (1) the auditor was targeting a specific type of business and had seen the issue before, and (2) the auditor was rushing quickly through a list of targets.

What is different is that ORST auditors move to the Canada Revenue Agency in March 2012 and have to complete all remaining audits before they move jobs.  Auditors do not have the luxury of time because the clock is ticking.

Ontario businesses need to prepare for audits and call in specialists earlier - procrastination is no longer an option.  Vendors may not have time to find an ORST specialist and canvass the issues in the period between the auditor's initial visit and the auditor pressing the "issue assessment" button.  Specialists may not be able to run to a vendor's aid on short notice.

Once an assessment is issued, the assessed person must file a notice of objection in order to dispute the amount assessed.  More importantly, the assessed person must pay 100% of the assessment immediately or according to a payment schedule arranged with the Ministry of Revenue.  Even more importantly, it takes over 2 years for an appeals officer to review an ORST notice of assessment and even longer to make a decision.  I have a notice of assessment filed in 2007 that has not been dealt with yet by the Ministry.  If the issues are complex, the assessment may be confirmed at the appeals stage and the assessed person must go to court to get the money back.

ORST audits are different in this final rush to close the books.  Vendors who do not realize that things have changed may be surprised.  Vendors who have not yet been audited, should expect a visit from an auditor.  They should also plan ahead if they want to limit the negative effects of the audit.

Withholding Tax Problems for Non-Residents Can Arise When Register for GST/HST and Tick Box "Carrying on Business in Canada"

I have seen an increase in Regulation 105 withholding tax audits recently and non-residents registered for GST/HST are affected.  The withholding tax audits are usually audits of Canadian companies who make payments to non-resident suppliers (often from the United States).  The cases I have seen recently involve a non-resident who provides services to the Canadian company at the a Canadian location.  Often, the contract calls for the Canadian company to reimburse the non-resident supplier for expenses incurred during the delivery of the services (e.g., the travel costs).  More recently, the Canadian business asks the non-resident to register for GST/HST purposes so that the non-resident can remove imbedded GST/HST in the agreed disbursements. With the implementation of HST, the disbursement costs have increased.  When the non-resident voluntarily registered for GST/HST, they checked the box on the registration form that they are carrying on business in Canada.

In many cases, when a Canadian business pays an amount to a non-resident business, the Canadian business must withhold a percentage specified in an tax treaty (the withholding tax) and remit that amount to the Canada Revenue Agency.  For example, if a U.S. company provides services to a Canadian company, the withholding tax rate would be 15%.  The Canadian business provides the non-resident with the requisite forms and the non-resident takes steps to get the money back from the Canadian Government. It is beyond the scope of this blog posting to cover all the withholding tax rates of Canada and all the exceptions and the steps to pay and recover withholding tax.  What is clear is that many Canadian companies do not withhold and get audited and assessed.

My reason for posting this blog article is to communicate to non-residents that the administrative task of completing a GST/HST registration form establishes a paper trail for non-residents and a simple answer relating to one Canadian tax may result in non-so-simple issues regarding another Canadian tax.  Please ask questions of an experienced Canadian tax lawyer.

What Is The Best Defense to A Purchase Side Audit?

The Ontario Ministry of Revenue conducts audits of vendors (sales side audits) looking for failures to remit tax collected and failures to collect tax.  The Ministry also conducts audits of purchasers (some are also vendors) looking for failures to pay tax on taxable goods (called purchase side audits).  When an auditor is looking at the purchase side of the business and failures to pay Ontario retail sales tax ("ORST"), the best defense is that "The other guy was audited already or self-assessed the ORST - you have your money".

The Ministry should not audit both the vendor and the purchaser for the exact same tax.  This happens sometimes because an audit or a purchaser can lead to an audit or a vendor and vice versa because an audit brings out information of non-compliance of others. Often the auditor goes from an audit of one person to his/her next "target" who was discovered in a previous audit.  Many times the auditor may not know of the other audit/assessment.  It should not be assumed that the auditor is intentionally trying to collect the same tax twice.

Over the course of my career, I have helped many businesses during the audit process by asking them to review an audit summary (before the "finish assessment" button is pushed) and identify large amounts of unpaid ORST on the purchase side of the audit.  I explain that the Ministry cannot assess the same tax twice.  If they have good relationships with their suppliers, I explain the benefits of picking up the phone and calling their contact at a supplier to see if they have been visited by an ORST auditor.  Sometimes the answer is "unfortunately, yes" and sometimes the answer is "luckily, no".

If they answer is "unfortunately, yes", it will be necessary to determine if the transactions at issue in the current audit were covered by the other audit and assessment.  If the answer is "yes", then the auditor should remove those items from the proposed assessment before pressing the 'finish assessment" button on the computer (there really isn't such a button).

Even if the answer is "luckily, no", the supplier may have self-assessed if they determined they should have charged and collected the ORST.  The supplier could have made a voluntary disclosure or received advice from an accountant or lawyer and the ORST could have been remitted without the purchaser knowing or receiving a new invoice showing ORST remitted/remittable.

It is worth mentioning that the vendors may use this defense if a purchaser has voluntarily disclosed or self-assessed and remitted ORST or if the purchaser has been audited.  The vendor may show an auditor that the ORST has been remitted or paid to the Ministry of Revenue in order to defend portions of a sales side audit.

The next step after finding that "the other guy has paid or remitted the ORST" is to communicate the information to the auditor and providing adequate proof that the monies have been paid.  This is where an experienced lawyer may be able to help with the clear communications and strategy. 

The existence of this defense is important to know now more than ever before because Ontario is auditing in order to finish all ORST audits by March 2012 (when the auditors transfer to the Canada Revenue Agency).  There is an increased likelihood that this defense is available given the volume of audits.

Voluntary Disclosures Must Be Complete and Accurate

When a lawyer or accountant discovers that a client has made an error (e.g., treated certain sales as tax exempt when they are actually taxable), they may recommend that the client make a voluntary disclosure.  Assuming that the disclosure meets the administrative criteria of the tax authority as being voluntary (which is an entirely other problem), the hard part is "getting to 'Yes' with the auditor".

The voluntary disclosure must be complete and accurate.  The auditor operates under the mantra "accept, but verify".  If the person making the disclosure leaves out important information that they do not want the auditor to know, they may be fooling themselves and not the auditor.  The auditor may discover those secrets during a desk audit or an on-site audit.  The factual circumstances may not make sense to the auditor if part of the story is missing and the auditor will dig further. Do not assume that the auditor will accept the cheque on behalf of the government and not have a single follow-up question.  That never happens.

When a business makes a voluntary disclosure, they often do so to avoid paying the penalty that is charged when an auditor finds the mistake. In return for not charging the penalty, the government wants a complete and accurate disclosure of the relevant facts in order to be in a position to determine that the business is coming in to full compliance.  Essentially, in a voluntary disclosure, you do the work for the auditor and the auditor quickly reviews the work (and in the case of correct disclosures, simply agrees with your worksheets).

Voluntary disclosures can be problematic when this simple review stage cannot take place because the information is not provided.  In many cases of voluntary disclosures by inexperienced persons, there is no intentional wrongdoing, but the disclosure is not complete because of the inexperience.  The auditor wants certain information and if the person making the disclosure does not understand the task at hand, or the sales tax regime, or the facts that are relevant or the documentation that will be relevant, etc., the good intentions of the voluntary disclosure can turn into a big and costly mess.

It is kind of like that home renovation project that started with a beautiful photo in a magazine and when you did it yourself to save money, it ended really badly and was much more expensive.  Or, you hired a cheap contractor who did not have experience renovating bathrooms, but took on the project, and ran into problem after problem after the demolition phase.  Part way through the project, you could not turn back and go back to the status quo.

Consider sales tax specialists as a "Mike Holmes" of voluntary disclosures.  Professionals who have done this before plan ahead.  They use their knowledge to investigate the potential issues BEFORE moving forward with the project.  They develop a plan that is tried and true.  They help you be reasonable in your expectations.  They work with you so that the results are successful and within the planned budget.

Many sales tax lawyers who have helped many clients make voluntary disclosures have precedents that they use to prepare the voluntary disclosure.  They know the statutory provisions, the case law, and the tax advisory opinions that apply.  Sales tax lawyers are able to help you gather the facts and communicate the facts correctly.  They can anticipate the follow-up questions and include the answers in the disclosure.  They can help you organize the applicable documents and the documents that the auditor likes to review in the normal course. 

Getting to "yes" in a voluntary disclosure means meeting the auditor's expectations and needs.  The auditor must put together a report for a supervisor.  You must give the auditor what he/she needs to get that approval.

OECD Seeks Comments on "OECD International VAT/GST Guidelines: Draft Guidelines on Neutrality"

In December 2010, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released for comment a document entitled "OECD International VAT/GST Guidelines: Draft Guidelines on Neutrality".  The deadline for filing comments is March 22, 2011.

Canada is a member of the OECD.  Canada imposes the goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales tax (HST), which are value-added taxes.  As a result, the OECD guideline may be incorporated into Canadian law in the future.  As a result, it will be important for Canadian businesses who operate multi-nationally and may be affected by the guideline to prepare thoughtful comments.

This document succinctly summarizes some of the important principles behind GST/HST style taxes and, therefore, may be VERY useful to litigants in explaining why an auditor's approach is incorrect.  I have considered its usefulness in the context of may GST/HST disputes. 

For example, proposed guideline No. 1 is "The burden of value added taxes themselves should not lie on taxable businesses except where explicitly provided for in legislation."  This is a basic principle and I can hear you saying "YES".  I can hear you saying "Why did the auditor assess me as a supplier when I am engaged in a taxable business?"

Read this document!

Would You Like the HST Map to Right?

Of course you would.  The "HST Map" to getting to "Right" is exactly what you want.  What should you do to get the right result every time?  What should you do to collect the right amount of HST every time you make a supply?  What should you do to calculate the right amount of input tax credits and recaptured input tax credits every time you file a GST/HST return?  What should you do to recover the maximum amount of credits, refunds & rebates allowed?  What should you do so that the Canada Revenue Agency says you are in the "Right" place when they complete any audit?

Unfortunately, these maps do not exist on supermarket shelves - but they can be generated or customized on a business-by-business basis by commodity tax lawyers and accountants.  Where "Right" is for you depends upon the facts and where you want to go.  Just as there are many cities and towns with the same name, there are many different "Right" destinations on an HST map.  If you do not know where is "Right", how are you going to determine the path to take to get there? How can you be sure you are taking the correct route to "Right"?  If you follow the directions someone else uses to get to "Right" you may be at the wrong "Right".

Once you can identify the destination of "Right", then a customized map can show you how to get there.  The customized map will set out the process that you must follow to get to your chosen "Right" destination.  The directions are a critical part of the map to "Right".

The HST map may take the form of a memorandum or opinion letter.  Sometimes the process involves seeking additional directions, which would be in the form of an advance GST/HST ruling from the Canada Revenue Agency.

It is possible to hire a commodity tax lawyer or accountant to prepare a customized HST map if you would like to get to "Right" and stay there.  These maps do exist - believe it or not.  Would you like one?

I should add one closing note that the Department of Finance may move "Right" on you when you are not looking.  Just like with the television show "Lost", you may find that you are no longer where you thought you were/should be.  Maybe the producers were thinking about the tax authorities when they came up with the plot for "Lost" --- hmmmm

Do You Really Want to Have an HST Map to Right?

Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend who was deciding on whether to write to the Canada Revenue Agency, GST/HST Rulings Directorate for a GST/HST ruling on an issue.  The discussion started that the client had followed advice given years ago that its supply was exempt.  The client had not collected GST for a number of years.  With the implementation of harmonized sales tax, the cost of being wrong has increased from 5% to 13% (in Ontario).  The client contacted my friend to revisit the issue.  The client does not want to be assessed - this is understandable.

The problem with writing in for an advance GST/HST ruling is that the CRA may not give the desired answer.  The CRA may disagree with the original analysis.  The CRA may see things differently.  The CRA may have given other rulings that are inconsistent with the ruling requested.  What if the CRA determines that the supply is taxable now, was previously taxable, and that the exemption did not apply to past supplies? What if the CRA determines that they were not in the "Right" place? There is a risk.

When there is a risk that the CRA will not give the ruling requested, the affected party (i.e., the client) must answer the question "Do you want to get to "Right"?  If the client wants the "Right' answer and to know where is "Right", the client should obtain an advance GST/HST ruling (which is binding) or an interpretation (which is not binding).  If the clients wants to continue to treat its supplies as exempt, then the client does not want to be at "Right".  If the client plans to ignore the ruling if it does not reaffirm what they want to do/are doing, the client does not want to be at "Right" and would increase its risk by applying for an advance GST/HST ruling.

It is important to determine whether the client (or you) want to have the "Right" answer or merely the answer the client (you) want.  They are not necessarily the same thing.

If the client (you) want to get to "Right", it is possible to prepare a customized map.  If the client(you) are not sure whether you really want to get to "Right", more thought is required on whether you do not care if you stay at 'Lost".

You Get What You Pay For

If you do not wish to pay for GST/HST advice, you may find that you get what you paid for - you paid nothing and you received nothing of value.  If you do not want to pay for GST/HST advice, and you ask a question, you may get:

1. The right answer;

2. An incorrect response after the responder looks for the correct provisions of the Excise Tax Act and regulations thereto and looks for administrative statements by CRA - but cannot find what is needed or cannot understand what information is found;

3. An incorrect response after no inquiry whatsoever because their time is not worth anything - you do not think their time is worth much and that is why you want to pay nothing;

4. A guess at the answer based on gut instinct or pure wishful thinking; or

5. An incomplete answer that does not address the nuances of your specific situation;

I often have this conversation with people who have been audited and assessed.  They have called the Canada Revenue Agency and were assessed anyway.  They have asked bookkeepers for GST/HST advice knowing that the book-keeper does not know what is the correct name of the GST/HST laws.  They have asked employees in the tax department even though they know that the employee did not take a course in GST/HST.

What Can I Do To Motivate You To Make Positive Steps Towards Better GST/HST Compliance

I would like to offer you words of encouragement to make positive improvements towards better goods and services tax (GST), harmonized sales tax (HST) and other sales and local taxes (SALT) compliance.  I would like to motivate you to make your working lives easier if you are blessed with the task of GST/HST/SALT recording and reporting.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) motivates us to act by fear of negative events, such as an audit and/or assessment.  The CRA motivates compliance by threat of penalties and interest assessments.  They are not wrong in approaching GST/HST in this manner as it is a self-reporting system --- follow the rules of suffer negative consequences.  Many businesses are motivated by money and fear and this system works for some. However, it does not work for many. 

Almost all businesses have just completed the task of filing a GST/HST return.  Annual filers filed their first GST/HST by today's deadline.  Quarterly filers have filed their second GST/HST return (for Q4 2010) by today's deadline.  Monthly filers filed their December 2010 GST/HST return by today's deadline. 

How many of you have spent hours of frustration in performing the calculations and rechecking documentation and numbers in order to file the GST/HST return?  How many of you could not verify whether you were to remit GST at 5% or HST at 13% or 12% or 15%?  How many of you had to self-assess GST/HST and were unsure what to do?  How many of you needed to complete documentation for a refund/rebate and were not sure what to do?  How many of you could not trace your point of sale rebates, your exempt sales and your zero-rated sales (sales when you did not charge GST/HST)?  How many of you walked away from the task wanting to scream at assistants and others within your organization?  How many called someone in your organization and "idiot" or other unpleasant name (if you did, go apologize).

Would you like this task to be easier for the next reporting period?  Are there answers you need in order to perform the task better next month or quarter or year? Is there training that you or your employees need? Would you like to take better control over this reporting process?

If you want to make the tasks related to GST/HST reporting easier, you can. Take the negative experience and make a list of why it was a negative experience to file your GST/HST return.  Write down what worked and what did not.  GST/HST compliance will improve if you fix the things you listed as not working properly. 

Did you have difficulties making sure you claimed 100% of you input tax credits? Fix it.

Did you have difficulties making sure you recaptured input tax credits where required? Fix it. 

Did you have difficulty reconciling various reports? Fix it. 

Were you lacking information that you needed to make decisions? Fix it.

Do you need help to fix it? Find people who understand GST/HST to help you. They do exist.

You can do this.  You can improve your job. You can spend more time with family and friends during GST/HST reporting time. You can be the force of positive change and others will be grateful. what are you waiting for --- another SALT return?

The Arguments of a Taxpayer is Not Enough, the Taxpayer Needs to Present Evidence

A common issue is highlighted in the recent Tax Court of Canada GST case, Paradigm Ventures, Inc. v. The Queen. Simply put, in this case, the Appellant presented its arguments to the Court and the Court asked to see the EVIDENCE.

Let me help you picture this - remember the movie Jerry McGuire when Tom Cruise was yelling "Show me the money!"  Now picture a judge at the front of a court, wearing black robes and yelling "Show me the evidence!"

The facts in the Paradigm Ventures case are unremarkable.  They key point was that in order to win, the Appellant needed to show that delivery of goods had taken place outside of Canada.  The court wanted to agree with the Appellant, but needed evidence that factually the goods were actually delivered outside Canada.

The representative for the Appellant made bald assertions that the contracts were for delivery outside Canada (without providing any contracts).  This frustrated the judge and prompted him to write in the decision "In effect, he seems to believe that the facts of this situation speak for themselves in the context of the intended relief ...".  The judge on to write:

"Given the background to the amendment and the assurances he received, the Appellant’s representative earnestly believes, in effect, that this acknowledgment of what the Appellant does is a sufficient basis for me to allow its appeal. My repeated cautions to him that such belief may not be a sufficient basis for me to allow the appeal made little impression on him..."

The judge further goes on to add:

"His pleas then for the Appellant’s appeal to succeed on the basis of what he essentially says was the spirit of the amendment, are simply unrealistic. The amendment was understood by most, it seems, as coming with conditions and burdens of proof."

 The judge's words are helpful because we often get caught up in what we want to be the result.

Continue Reading...

Sale of a Business or Part of a Business

One of the questions that is most often reviewed by business lawyers and accountants is whether a seller of a business is making "a sale of a business or part of a business".  The reason is that a lot of GST/HST may be at stake.  The other reason is that a section 167 election may be available to provide relief to the purchaser (and remove the collection and remittance obligation from the seller).  While many think the test is easy to apply, there are many complicated twists and turns in the analysis.

In December 2010, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) released GST Memorandum Series 14.4 "Sale of a Business or Part of a Business" as administrative guidance.  This 11 page document will help in the application of section 167 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada). 

However, since there may be a lot on money at stake if you do not interpret the rules properly, you may wish to refer questions to a commodity tax/sales tax specialist if you are still unclear after reading this CRA administrative guidance.  This is my due diligence tip...

What is "Net Worth Assessment" and Can It Be Refuted?

I often have discussions with clients who are not talented in the record-keeping department.  Usually, the client thinks that their record-keeping is adequate and an auditor informs them otherwise.  Actually, the auditor either issued a large assessment using a net worth methodology or a mark-up analysis methodology - in other words, the auditor assesses an amount equal to what he/she thinks the taxpayer should have made.  Usually, the auditor's methodology inflates the numbers drastically and results in a significant assessment.

In the recent Tax Court of Canada decision in Stanislao v. Her Majesty, the court allowed the appeal because the net worth assessment was adequately challenged.  In this case, the judge restated a succinct description of the net worth audit is found in Bigayan v. The Queen:

The net worth method, as observed in Ramey v. R. (1993), 93 D.T.C. 791 (T.C.C.), is a last resort to be used when all else fails. Frequently it is used when a taxpayer has failed to file income tax returns or has kept no records. It is a blunt instrument, accurate within a range of indeterminate magnitude. It is based on an assumption that if one subtracts a taxpayer's net worth at the beginning of a year from that at the end, adds the taxpayer's expenditures in the year, deletes non-taxable receipts and accretions to value of existing assets, the net result, less any amount declared by the taxpayer, must be attributable to unreported income earned in the year, unless the taxpayer can demonstrate otherwise. It is at best an unsatisfactory method, arbitrary and inaccurate but sometimes it is the only means of approximating the income of a taxpayer.

The Court also restated from Bigayan the ways in which a taxpayer could seek to overturn a net worth assessment:

The best method of challenging a net worth assessment is to put forth evidence of what the taxpayer's income actually is. A less satisfactory, but nonetheless acceptable method is described by Cameron J. in Chernenkoff v. Minister of National Revenue (1949), 49 D.T.C. 680 (Can. Ex. Ct.) at 683:

In the absence of records, the alternative course open to the appellant was to prove that even on a proper and complete "net worth" basis the assessments were wrong.

This method of challenging a net worth assessment is accepted, but even after the adjustments have been completed one is left with the uneasy feeling that the truth has not been fully uncovered. Tinkering with an inherently flawed and imperfect vehicle is not likely to perfect it. …

What this shows is that the Tax Court of Canada will not blindly accept the Canada Revenue Agency's assessment.   As net worth assessment can be refuted. The key is evidence (as it usually is). The problem is the cost to fight the taxman.

Should Companies/Partners Undertake GST/HST Inspections Before Buying a Business?

Most people hire a home inspector to inspect a home before buying a home.  They hire home inspectors to find the problems that they cannot see so that they do not experience large unexpected expenditures after the closing date.

Should businesses (corporations and partners/joint venturers) hire a GST/HST expert to conduct a GST/HST focused review prior to the closing date so that they do not buy GST/HST problems that a Canada Revenue Agency auditor may blame on the buyer?  What I am referring to is due diligence and a private audit of GST/HST books and records.

A GST/HST inspection is prudent if the buyer is buying the shares of a corporation.  The past errors (liabilities) are acquired in a share purchase transaction.  If you find a serious problem with the GST/HST compliance, then a purchase price reduction can be discussed.  The purchase price reduction for the shares may be quantified by way of a pre-closing voluntary disclosure - but that may delay the transaction.  If you do not want to delay the closing of the transaction, an amount of the purchase price may be put in a reserve or escrow account as the voluntary disclosure proceeds.  It is not necessary to conduct a a voluntary disclosure and reserves can be maintained depending what is found in and quantified during the GST/HST inspection.

Similarly, a GST/HST inspection is prudent if the buyer is purchasing a partnership unit or joint venture interest in an existing partnership or joint venture. As discussed with corporations, the buyer would be buying the GST/HST history and the existing problems.

Even if the acquisition is an asset transaction, a GST/HST inspection is prudent.  If the buyer is making offers of employment to existing employees, they will continue to make any mistakes they had been making in their record keeping and reportings. If you would like to stop bad practices, you need to know they exist and take positive steps to teach proper practices.

GST/HST inspections are not usual - yet.  With the implementation of GST/HST in Ontario and British Columbia, the cost of mistakes increased to 13% and 12% respectively, plus additional basis points for interest and penalties.  Depending on the value of the business that is being acquired, there is more money at stake than the cost of replacing a leaky roof or old furnace.

If You Would Like Near Certainty in GST/HST, You Need To Get An Advance GST/HST Ruling

Seth Godin, a marketing guru, usually is right on the mark.  In today's post, entitled "The Certainty Premium" he writes, in part:

How much would you pay for an envelope that had a 50% chance of containing $10 and a 50% chance of being empty?

Over time and in bulk, probably $4.99. But certainly not more than $5.

Here's where it gets interesting: how much extra would you pay for a plane that was guaranteed to be always on time, or a surgery that was always guaranteed to work? Suddenly, the same math that helped us value the envelope doesn't work so well. That's because we're often willing to pay a significant premium to avoid risk.

In GST/HST, near certainty may be derived from a ruling from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  There are two types of requests that can be made to the CRA, GST/HST Rulings Directorate:

1. Advance Rulings; and

2. Interpretations.

An advance ruling requires that the requested provide their name and all relevant facts relating to the request.  The CRA will consider the request, possibly ask questions, and request more documentation before issuing an advance ruling.  This process takes time and the request is well considered (sometimes a very long time).  However, what the taxpayer receives from the CRA is a letter containing their answer that is binding.  This means that the CRA should not issue an assessment against the person who made the request for the ruling if they requester acts in accordance with their advance GST/HST ruling.  In cases where an auditor disagrees or the CRA's administrative position has changed after the CRA provides the advance GST/HST ruling to a requester (and they have not notified the person to whom the ruling was provided of the change), the CRA generally does not assess GST/HST, penalties and interest for the past, but requests that the person abide by the CRA's current position on a going forward basis.  This can save a person from audit stress and having to pay an assessment in the future.

An interpretation is something less than an advance ruling and it is not binding on the CRA.  An interpretation usually involves a general and generic question and can be made on a no-names basis.  The interpretation provides the CRA's current position relating to the facts and topic set out in the request. If a taxpayer has an interpretation and an auditor disagrees or the CRA's position changes, an assessment may be issued against a requester. Usually, if a person has an interpretation letter from the CRA, the CRA will not assess penalties because the person exercised due diligence by requesting an interpretation.  There are cases where the CRA will restrict the audit period to something less than 4 years if their administrative position changed.  CRA auditors exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis.

That being said, if the CRA discovers during an audit that the request for an advance ruling or interpretation does not set out all relevant facts or that the facts were "spun" and not entirely accurate, they may take the position that the ruling or interpretation is void and may issue an assessment against the requester despite the ruling or interpretation.  For this reason, if there is a significant amount that may be assessed if a future audit covers 4 years, then it is wise to use the services of a GST/HST professional who can help you write your ruling request.  In addition, the GST/HST professional can communicate with the CRA, GST/HST Rulings Directorate personnel to determine what information they require to analyze the advance ruling/interpretation request. 

Businesses often do not know what they do not know and are too afraid to ask the CRA out of fear that contact will cause an audit to occur.  Businesses owners may not know what to say and what not to say.  By working with a professional, the business owner may be shielded from the CRA's view or may find out that their advance ruling request may not be granted and that they are doing something wrong.  If the business is doing something wrong, they can make a voluntary disclosure for past mistakes and correct the errors on a going forward basis. Assessment risk may be reduced.

For more information on GST/HST Rulings, please look at GST/HST Memorandum Series 1.4 (September 2009) "Excise and GST/HST Rulings and Interpretation Services".  If you need help in analyzing whether to request an advance GST/HST ruling or an interpretation, please call Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-760-8999.

Would you like to find MONEY in your Business?

If you would like to find money in your business, you should conduct an internal compliance verification.  You should undertake a review of your internal controls to ensure that you are recovering every cent of GST/HST that you are entitled to recover under the law. I would be surprised if you do not find something you have missed.  Treat the internal review as a treasure hunt with the same determination as a child with a treasure map, you may just find money.

Your review of your internal controls should also look for your failures to charge GST/HST appropriately and your failures to remit GST/HST collected and/or GST/HST that you must self-assess and remit from your own bank account.  It goes without saying that the same holds true for other sales taxes. This is finding money too and, it is a method to save money as the interest and penalties will cost you if a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) auditor comes to visit, conducts an audit and finds your mistakes.

I have a list of places in the books and records of a business where I look for additional amounts that have been missed by a business owner and his/her staff or bookkeeper or accountant. I will not give that list out to anyone - but I use my list that has been created from years of experience (often from helping clients through audits and assessments). 

I will share one tip today. 

Since the implementation of HST, have you taken your purchase invoices and checked to see if you have claimed all of the input tax credits (ITCs) that you can to recover GST/HST paid to your suppliers?  This is a good time to take a good sample of those invoices and check to see if the GST/HST has been recorded properly and whether your internal record keeping is working to permit full recovery.  

First, do you have all the invoices?  Are you missing some of the invoices that you remember paying?   Do you remember a good of a service that was acquired and there isn't an invoice in your sample?  If an invoice is missing, you may not have recorded the input tax credit.  Do you have methods to record GST/HST paid when there wasn't a typical invoice (e.g. pursuant to an agreement of purchase and sale or a commercial lease or a license, etc.). Do you record the GST/HST amount included in each check that yo write?  What about bank drafts, wire transfer and other forms of payment?

When you are look at your invoices, check again whether the suppliers properly invoiced you GST/HST?  Do the invoices issued between May 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010 properly record GST/HST charged during the transition period?  Does the invoice reflect the correct amount of GST/HST?  This is also a great time to analyze whether the invoices (and any other evidence relating to payments of GST/HST) meet the documentary requirements of the Excise Tax Act and regulations - inadequate documentation is the top audit issue and reason why CRA auditors reject ITC claims and issue assessments.  Have you ever inquired what information is necessary (and should be maintained) to satisfy the CRA of your entitledment to claim an input tax credit?

Second, have you recorded the amounts of input tax credits in your records? If so, are there any errors? If not, how can you claim the correct amount of an input tax credit if the amounts are not recorded?  Even if they are recorded in your books and records, have you checked to see that the process actually works so that when you press the button for a calculation, that number is correct?

If your business does not claim full input tax credits, do you claim the correct amount of rebates/refunds of GST/HST (e.g. you are engaged in exempt activities in whole or in part)?  The same two steps discussed above can be used to verify that your internal controls record the GST/HST that you are entitled to claim by way of rebate/refund.

If you find previously unrecovered GST/HST, you may be able to amend your GST/HST return for the period (depending on the reporting period in which the error occurred).   You may be able to claim the input tax credit/rebate/refund on your next GST/HST return.  You may be able to file a refund claim. I cannot tell you how you get your hands on that found money without knowing the facts.

You may undertake an internal review by yourself or you may call in a professional to maximize your recovery - you do not know what you do not know and what you have missed  A small number of lawyers and accountants who understand the GST/HST laws and administrative policies may be called to assist you with this internal controls review process.  Most sales tax lawyers and accountants charge an hourly rate for their services.  There are also sales tax consultants who conduct these types of reviews and they sometimes charge you a percentage of what they find (you split the found money).

Since I am a lawyer, I have to mention that the benefit of using a lawyer is that analysis and report is subject to solicitor-client privilege and cannot be obtained by the CRA unless that privilege has been breached.  Everything you say to a lawyer about your lack of attention to internal controls and mistakes cannot be divulged to the CRA or tax authorities.  A lawyer's files should not be obtained by the CRA if they arrive with a warrant or seizure request.  If the CRA does attempt to seize a lawyer's records, the records/files may be placed under seal and reviewed by a court before the CRA can review them (which allows the lawyer to claim privilege and a judge to decide if the claim is appropriate on a document-by-document basis).

Finally, if you conduct periodic compliance verifications of your internal controls, you may have a due diligence defence if at some future point in time you are audited.  If your review process captures most of your mistakes and you miss one or two items, that can be expected. However, if you miss a lot of your errors, there would be the same question by the auditor as to whether you took care in implementing your GST/HST systems.

Good luck searching for money.  Please let us know if you find any.

Please Do Not Throw Your Notice of Assessment in a Drawer & Forget About It

It is bad enough to receive a notice of assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or the Ontario Ministry of Revenue or the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or some other tax authority.  You clearly did not want to be in a position that you have to pay an amount of money (especially large assessments) to the government.  However, ignoring the notice of assessment is not the right option to choose concerning what to do next. 

If you do not agree with the amount stated on the notice of assessment as the amount (or the imposition of a penalty amount or the interest calculation) or the basis for the assessment or do not know why you received the assessment and want to have the taxing authority make a correction, you usually must file a notice of objection/notice of appeal/request for redetermination or take a positive step to request further consideration of the matter.  In almost every taxing statute, there are statutory time periods (also called "limitation periods") which are often 30 or 90 or 180 days depending on the tax at issue and the legal route to resolve the dispute.  If you throw the notice of assessment in a drawer, you may miss the filing deadline and lose your opportunity to file a notice of objection, appeal or request for a redetermination. This would be bad for you.

Some tax statutes allow for you to ask the head of the taxing authority or a court or tribunal for an extension of time to file the notice of objection, appeal or request for a redetermination.  However, usually you must make the request within the statutory time period for the objection/appeal/redetermination.  For example, if you have a 90 day period to file a notice of objection, you must ask for your extension of time before the 90 day period expires.  You must explain the reason for needing an extension of time - and saying that you forgot about the notice of assessment is not a good excuse.  You must also demonstrate that you intended to file an objection/appeal/redetermination - and saying that you threw the notice of assessment in a drawer shows that you planned to ignore it.

Pulling the notice of assessment out of the drawer one week or one day before the statutory objection/appeal/redetermination deadline is problematic as you will have to find someone to help you file your objection/appeal/redetermination under extreme stress and you will forget important facts and potentially winning arguments.  You will reduce your likelihood of success when you do not leave yourself and your advisors enough time to do a good job.

Finally, I hear from many clients who pull the notice of objection out of the drawer years after the limitation period for filing an objection/appeal/redetermination has expired.  At that point in time, they are being pursued by the collections department of the taxing authority and the amount of interest after time can double the liability.  At some time, it will catch up with you.  When you are pursued by collections officers or receive a director's liability assessment for the original assessment amount plus interest compounded daily at 6% or more, you will wish that you did not thrown the original assessment in a drawer.  At that stage, there is even less a professional can do to correct any mistakes made by the auditor.

The ABCs of Harmonized Sales Tax

Harmonized sales tax ("HST") is here to stay in Ontario for 5 years due to the arrangement between Premier McGuinty and the Government of Canada.  The provincial portion of the rate (currently 8% and called PVAT to those in the know) may be altered on or after July 1, 2012.

Now for something serious and not so serious at times - the ABCs of HST:

A is for Almost Everything - HST covers almost everything;

B is for Bookkeeping - Registrants need to keep detailed records and maintain books are records that can be audited by the Canada Revenue Agency Auditors;

C is for Canada Revenue Agency - The CRA enforces the HST (both the GST and PVAT portions);

D is for Documentary Requirements - A top 10 audit issue is that registrations do not maintain adequate information to support input tax credit and refund claims;

E is for Exemptions - Exempt means that HST/GST is not charged, but the supplier is not entitled to claim input tax credits - so GST/HST is passed on in the price of the property/services;

F is for Filings - Registrants must file their GST/HST returns on time and large businesses must recapture ITCs on time and builders must report certain information in their filings or face costly penalties;

G is for Government Contracts - Suppliers to the Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia Governments must charge GST/HST (previously Ontario and BC did not pay GST or PST);

H is for HST - should have expected this one - or I could have written "Hated Sales Tax";

I is for Input Tax Credits - ITCs are good for businesses engaged in commercial activities who get to recover GST/HST on business inputs (good until they get audited and mistakes are found);

J is for Judge - If you disagree with the CRA about an assessment, file a notice of objection and notice of appeal and take the dispute to a Tax Court of Canada judge;

K is for Knowledgeable - While it is self-serving, you need to talk to a knowledgeable practitioner as the HST rules are complicated;

L is for Legislation - the Excise Tax Act needs to be updated - we have not had a good review since 1997;

M is for MUSH Sector - The MUSH (Municipalities, Universities, Schools, Hospitals) sector have a rebate scheme and difficult rules;

N is for Non-Residents - Businesses outside Ontario (e.g., in other Canadian provinces, the United States and overseas) may be required to charge, collect and remit HST and do not know or understand it;

O is for Ontario Retail Sales Tax - HST replaces ORST, but ORST is still applicable on used car sales and certain insurance premiums;

P is for Place of Supply Rules - Whether you charge HST depends in part on the application of the place of supply rules, which determine if the supply takes place in an HST province and which HST province;

Q is for Quick Method - really a misnomer because it is not quick and some people using it will have to apply special transition rules;

R is for Recaptured ITCS - Large businesses (those that make over $10 million is sales per annual alone or with affiliated entities) must pay back certain ITCs claimed relating to PVAT and must report on monthly GST/HST return;

S is for Small Suppliers - Small supplier do not have to register for GST/HST purposes;

T is for  Technology - Technology helps capture and report GST/HST information - this cannot be done manually;

U is for Unhappy Consumers - Consumers are paying more on electricity, home heating, bikes, services, etc because of HST;

V is for Voluntary Disclosures - If you make a mistake and have not been contacted by a CRA auditor, you may consider making a non-names voluntary disclosure via a practitioner so save paying a penalty;

W is for web-site - go to www.thehstblog.com for information on HST or www.cra.gc.ca;

X is for Xerox - you need to keep good records as evidence to show auditors - you need to invest in a good scanner or photocopier;

Y is for Yikes - This is what a person says when they hear they will be audited for HST (probably say something else - but this is a clean web-site); and

Z is for Zero-rated - If property or services are zero-rated, you pay GST/HST at a rate of 0% and the supplier gets an input tax credit (therefore, health care and educational services should be zero-rated instead of exempt).

Registrants Who Hold Garage Sales Should Charge GST/HST

Some individuals register for GST/HST purposes for their business activities.  When "Bob Smith" registers for GST/HST purposes as a sole practitioner or as a partner in a partnership or as the operator of a joint venture or as a trustee of a trust, he may expose himself to assessment risk for failure to collect GST/HST on all supplies.  When Bob Smith has a garage or contents sale, he is making taxable supplies and should be collecting and remitting GST/HST.  In 99.9% of the cases, the registered Bob and Jane Smith's of Ontario (or Canada for that matter) do not realize they must charge GST/HST.

The rest of us who are not registered for GST/HST purposes (in our individual capacity) do not charge GST/HST at garage and content sales because they do not have a reasonable expectation of profit.  As a result, they do not need to voluntarily register for GST/HST purposes (unless they sell goods on EBay and other web-sites and their sales exceed $30,000 per year).

Bob Smith would say that he does not have a reasonable expectation of profit with respect to the sales of the old kitchen appliances, books, clothes, etc. sold at the garage sale.  He is probably correct.  But, since he is already in the GST/HST system because he has a reasonable expectation of profit in his business activities, the collection and remittance obligations arise. 

If you think about it, the rule IS NOT that a sole practitioner/partner/joint venturer/trustee charges GST/HST when the sale is a profitable sale and does not charge GST/HST when the sale is not a profitable sale.  The sole practitioner charges GST/HST on all sales.

Many individuals have registered for GST/HST purposes for a number of reasons.  these registrants should consider the wider ramifications of that registration --- including their personal activities that may give rise to GST/HST collection and remittance obligations.

A "Waiver" Is NOT a Hand Gesture to a Canada Revenue Agency Auditor to Say "Goodbye"

A waiver is a document that a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) auditor asks you to sign that allow the auditor to continue an audit and potentially assess tax, penalties and interests for mistakes made further back in time than what is allowed by the GST/HST laws.  Once you sign a waiver, you have extended what is called a "limitation period".  If the statutory limitation period is four years, the CRA auditor cannot normally assess amounts prior to the start date of the four year period (counting back from the date of the assessment) unless the taxpayer makes a misrepresentation attributable to neglect, carelessness or willful default or signs a waiver.

Often, the auditor asks the taxpayer to sign a waiver in the form of GST Form 189. This allows the auditor to continue to dig for the mistakes and the ultimate assessment may be higher.  On the other hand, it also allows the discussions to continue and takes the "rush" out of auditor's job (meaning the auditor can take the time to issue the correct assessment).  I have seen situations where an auditor says he/she will issue an assessment for $1,000,000 (which immediately becomes a debt due to Canada unless a waiver is signed) or will continue discussions to potentially resolve the issues.

Sometimes it is a difficult decision whether to sign the waiver and give up certain legal rights.  Depending on the circumstances and facts, I have recommended to some taxpayers that they not sign the waiver.  In other circumstances, I have recommended that the taxpayer sign the waiver and ultimately the results of the audit were better for the taxpayer.

In many cases, I have helped the taxpayer restrict the scope of the waiver.  A blanket waiver (just signing) may not be the best approach and the CRA auditor is not going to limit his/her assessment options by helping the taxpayer place restrictions on him/her.  A waiver, like any written agreement, can be tailored to suit the needs of the parties involved.

In every case, it is worth having a discussion with a professional whether the waiver should or should not be signed.

what some taxpayers do not realize is that a waiver can be revoked by filing a GST Form 146. Whether this form should be signed and how to document the revocation are also subjects for discussion with a professional.

The Canada Revenue Agency Wants To Be Paid ASAP

If you have been assessed harmonized sales tax (HST) (or goods and services tax (GST)) and/or interest and penalties by a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) auditor (that is, you have received a Notice of Assessment), you owe money to the Government of Canada and the CRA wants to collect that money as soon as possible.  The bad news is that the Excise Tax Act (Canada) does not suspend or delay collections actions when a taxpayer files a Notice of Objection within the 90 day limitation period or appeal (after a denial of the objection).  An assessed taxpayer (or supplier in the case of an assessment of a penalty for failure to collect tax) must still respond to the requests made by CRA Collections.  Collections will request (1) payment in full ASAP, (2) you enter into a collections/payment arrangement with the CRA, or (3) you post security satisfactory to the Minister of Revenue (actually the CRA Collections officer).

I have been asked many times in my career if there is anything that can be done to stop CRA Collections. The answer is 'Not Really".  I have discussed the payment obligations with many clients over the years.  The GST/HST laws are different from income tax laws and do not stop the Collections clock when the taxpayer disputes the CRA's assessment.  Sorry to be the one to tell you this.

CRA Collections has a number of mechanisms at their disposal to collect any GST/HST assessment.  They may garnish wages,  They may intercept monies owed by an assessed taxpayer by other persons (called garnishments).  They may place liens on real property and/or tangible personal property.  They may issue writs to the sheriff to seize and sell certain of your assets.  The authority for these actions are contained in the Excise Tax Act.

Even when you have a legitimate legal argument to dispute the GST/HST assessment, the debt is still due and owing.  Actually, the moment the Notice of Assessment is issued and sent to the assessed taxpayer, the CRA Collections department can start collections actions.

As a result, the assessed taxpayer must consider whether they can pay the amount in full.  The upside with this option is that CRA Collections does not take control over your cash flow and there can be no surprises.  The downside is that if the taxpayer has a legitimate legal argument to dispute the assessment and files a notice of objection/appeal, the dispute resolution process may be slower because the Government of Canada has the money and little incentive to give it back quickly (except that it must pay minimal interest when they are wrong).

Alternatively, the assessed taxpayer may enter into a payment arrangement with CRA Collections (usually the CRA wants their money within 18 months) or may post security (such as a irrevocable letter of credit).  When an assessed taxpayer wishes to engage in such discussions with the CRA, it may be helpful to work with a lawyer.  Often CRA Collections asks for information about the assessed taxpayer's ability to pay (and may request information about a spouse's ability to pay when the assessed taxpayer is an individual or the directors' and officers' ability to pay when the assessed taxpayer is a corporation or the partners' ability to pay when the assessed taxpayer is a partnership) before accepting any payment arrangement.  The CRA may go on a fishing expedition to get information in order to make directors' liability assessments or consider more serious tax evasion criminal charges. 

The arrangement often is put into contract form and the failure to make a payment may void the agreement and cause all amounts to be payable immediately.  As a result, it is important to negotiate an realistic arrangement.

Each situation is unique to the taxpayer and parties involved.  What is the same in all cases is that when the CRA issues an assessment of GST/HST (even when the auditor knows the assessment is incorrect), CRA Collections job is to collect the money ASAP.

Directors' Liability for HST Debts Is Important Consideration

When was the last time you made a list of your various corporate directorships and asked the question "Do I want to be a director on this company or should I formally resign?".  Did you ask this question when HST implementation in Ontario and British Columbia occurred on July 1, 2010?  If not, why not?  The potential liability for unremitted HST or penalties for HST errors is now 13% (Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland) or 12% (British Columbia) or 15% (Nova Scotia) plus penalties and interest.  There is a lot more money from your director pocket at stake.

Are you a de facto or de jure director?  Persons who are formally a director under provincial or federal corporations laws may be assessed by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  In addition, persons who are not formally directors, but who take on the roles of directors (without the formal directors' resolution) may be considered by the CRA to be a director too and assessed as a director.  Have you taken steps to demonstrate that you do not intend to be a director of a company where you do not wish the CRA to place the "director" name tag on your jacket (and wallet)?

Do you have all the paperwork for your past directorships and resignations?  If the CRA came knocking on your door today to collect GST and/or HST owed by a company in respect of which you were a director years ago, could you prove that you resigned as a director and that the company actually filed the paperwork with the relevant governmental authority?  Do you know if the company filed the documents with the relevant governmental authority? Do you know if the company updated the information in the CRA's database concerning your resignation as a director? Can you still reach the individuals who asked you to be a director of the company?

Taking on the role and responsibilities as a director of a corporation involves significant obligations, not the least of which is vicarious liability for certain  GST/HST (and income tax, Ontario retail sales tax and other taxes) obligations of the corporation, should it become fail to make remittances or become insolvent.

Subsection 323(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) provides that:

If a corporation fails to remit an amount of net tax  ... or pay an amount as required ... , the directors of the corporation at the time the corporation was required to remit or pay as the case may be, the amount are jointly and severally or solidarily, liable, together with the corporation, to pay the amount and any interest on, or penalties relating to, the amount."

There are a number of limitations on director's liability, including:

1) the person being assessed is a former director of the corporation and ceased to be a director more than 2 years before the assessment;

2) the director or former director exercised the degree of care, diligence and skill to prevent the failure that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in similar circumstances;

3) the Minister has not taken certain steps to recover from the corporation as required by subsection 323(2) of the Excise Tax Act.

We are seeing more director's liability assessments by the CRA (and other governmental authorities) in the current economic climate.  Some companies have decided to pay demanding creditors over the CRA.  Some companies have declared bankruptcy.  Some companies have been sold.  Some companies have let paperwork slide while trying to stay above water.  Some of the CRA calls are to individuals who thought they ceased to be a director years ago --- the CRA is digging into old collection files and seeing what can be collected now.

It is time to reconsider whether the the good intentions of the past (becoming a director of a corporation) may lead you into the poorhouse or dent your retirement savings. for more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak (a sales tax lawyer) at 416-760-8999.

Communication of Zero-Rating, HST Point of Sale Rebates and HST on Sales Receipts is Problematic

Retailers are having difficulty communicating information to consumers on a single invoice.  Both large and small retailers are having to communicate a single blended HST charge and, at the same time, communicate when goods are zero-rated (HST is charged at 0%), exempt (no HST) and when they are offering an HST point of sale rebate (charging GST at 5%). 

The retailers have to segregate the information for consumers on the single piece of paper they provide at the time of sale (the sales receipt).  As a result, different lines of information may be shown on a sales receipt that may be confusing.  To a consumer that does not bring along a calculator, it may appear that the retailer is charging 13% + 5% tax or undercharged the 13% HST (in Ontario).

The more important problem is for the small retailers who may not be charging the HST correctly and may not be communicating the information correctly.  The smaller retailers may not have realized the extent of the systems changes that were required to implement HST.

Small retailers should know that some of the large retailers have been struggling with this issue --- you are not alone. However, both are expected to get it right.  Auditors will visit small retailers too.

New ORST Auditors Are Making Big Mistakes - What Can You Do?

Ontario has hired a significant number of new auditors to complete Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) audits before the March 2012 deadline when the Ministry of Revenue staff join the Canada Revenue Agency.  What I am seeing is inexperienced auditors who do not know the law issuing large assessments to Ontario vendors and walking away saying that they can file a notice of objection if the vendor disagrees.  The audits are being rushed and the new auditors have not allocated themselves enough time to complete the task correctly.

What this means is that assessed vendors must file a notice of objection and pay the full amount of the assessed ORST while they wait for a Ministry of Revenue appeals officer to review the objection (and it takes more than two years for the appeals officer to pick up an appeal). I have an objection that I filed in 2007 that has not been moved forward by the Appeals Branch.

What can vendors do?  My best recommendation is to be very prepared for any audit.  As soon as you receive the letter or call that an ORST audit is to occur, organize all the relevant documents.  Conduct test audit to determine if you have any problems. Find your own mistakes --- in other words, do the auditors job before the auditor. Know what the assessment should be before the auditor does.

If you have a disagreement with the auditor over the application of the law or his/her interpretation of the facts, call in an expert ASAP.  Many vendors wait until after the problems have developed too far to call in an expert.  If the time clock is running out on the audit, it becomes more difficult to set up a meeting with a supervisor or request that the auditor seek a tax advisory opinion.

Many vendors want to save money and ask a book-keeper or accountant without sales tax expertise to help them during the audit and in preparing notices of objection.  Please remember that it may cost more if you are assessed and have to pay the full amount while waiting for an objection to be considered.  Once the Ministry of Revenue has your money, they will not want to give it back and will be incentivised to delay.

Ensuring that the assessment is correct when it is issued is the best strategy to adopt.  That being said, when you are audited by an inexperienced auditor for the government, it is easier said than done.

Was the Director Wearing a White Hat?

I would like to share a quote with you from a recent GST case, Arsic v. The Queen.  In this case, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) was pursuing a director of a corporation for the GST debts of the corporation.  In these circumstances, the director may raise the due diligence defence, which prevents the CRA from shifting the corporation's GST liability (plus penalties and interest) to the director.

Justice Diane Campbell wrote:

In the end, I must attempt the difficult task of determining what a reasonably prudent person should have done or would have done in circumstances comparable to those in this appeal.  It remains a question of fact tempered with a good dose of even-handed common sense.  It is always easy to criticize the choices of a taxpayer when armed with the benefit of hindsight."

This quote will be helpful to directors.  The judge is making it clear that the auditor did not use common sense when assessing the director for the liabilities of the corporation. She accepted the due diligence defence and allowed the appeal.  The end result is that the director did not have to pay the assessment relating to the GST debt of the corporation.

More importantly, the quote should help directors.  Directors must ask themselves what would the Court expect a reasonably prudent director to do?  What should I do to show the Court that I tried to prevent the corporation from getting into GST/HST trouble?  I often use the white hat / black hat analogy.  The taxpayer needs to help the Court see that they always were the good guy wearing the white hat.  The director must not wear a black hat and engage in questionable behaviour. In Court, the bad facts may (will likely) come out.

Bed Bugs and HST

The bed bug extermination business is thriving (not good for renters, home owners, hotel operators and others, but good for pest control service providers).This post is for the pest control service providers.  I was recently asked which place of supply rule applies to pest control services.  The person asking had incorrectly assumed that the general HST place of supply rule applied.

The correct answer is that the HST place of supply rule for services in respect of real property will apply to most (if not all) pest control services.  The service provider must go to a particular building to undertake the actions to rid the place of the bed bugs.  The service provider goes to a home, an apartment building, a hotel, a condominium building, a nursing home, or a theatre.  These places have particular locations.

Based on the HST place of supply rules, if the place is located in an HST province (e.g., Ontario), HST would apply to the amount charged for the service.  If the place is located outside an HST province (e.g., Quebec), HST would not apply (but GST would apply if the place is in Canada) to the amount charged for the service.  If the place is located on a reserve, then the point of sale rebate would apply.

Bed bug exterminators should clearly identify on their invoice the location at which the services were performed.  This will help the HST auditor apply the HST place of supply rules correctly and assess the correct rate of GST/HST.

For persons located in Ontario and British Columbia, pest control services were not taxable under the provincial sales tax regimes of either province.  Many persons who are recipients of pest control services are consumers and, therefore, are not able to recover the HST by way of an input tax credit.  Landlords, for example, cannot recover HST paid on pest control services in rental properties. Another good example is a home owners is the final consumer and cannot recover HST paid on bed bug removal - even if the bed bugs arrived from a foreign hotel.

Bed bugs and other pests may carry diseases and cause health issues, but the extermination services are not considered to be health care services.  People (and parents) must pay the HST to protect their families from bed bug bites and health issues.

Thought of the Day - Auditors Do Not Know Your Business

Mistakes are made by auditors because they do not know your business.  You may think that you have the advantage over an auditor because you know what they do not know.  Unfortunately, it does not work that way.  What the auditor does not know, he will assume.  He is allowed to make assumptions.  he is allowed to make incorrect assumptions.  If the auditor makes an assessment based on incorrect assumptions, you have the right to provide evidence to rebut those presumptions.  However, the cost of going to court often exceeds $100,000.  The morale of the story is that it is cheaper to be humble and sit down with he auditor and explain your business.  Tell him what he should know to do his job correctly.  Treat the auditor like an apprentice and share what you took years to learn and understand.

A Thought About GST and Imports

Since the implementation of harmonized sales tax ("HST") in Ontario and British Columbia, the Government of Canada should re-think the imposition of goods and services tax ("GST") on imports of commercial goods. In connection with the implementation of HST, the CITCAs include provisions such that HST is not imposed on imported commercial goods.  What is the logic of continuing to impose GST on commercial imports? Wouldn't it be better for Canadian businesses and, in particular manufacturers, if the GST cash flow cost on imported commercial goods is removed?  If the Canada Border Services Agency can live with the HST regime for imports, why can't they also live with no GST on commercial goods and GST on non-commercial goods?  Wouldn't it be a more efficient use of government resources if the Canada Border Services Agency is no longer responsible for collection of GST on imported commercial goods and is not longer shares verification/audit functions with the Canada Revenue Agency?  For that matter, wouldn't it be better for businesses if they did not have to be subject to GST audits/compliance verifications by two separate government agencies who do not adequately share information and interpretations?  I am just saying ...

HST and Disbursements

Disbursements have been an issue under the goods and services tax (GST) and will become a more complex issue with harmonized sales tax (HST).  When I speak about disbursements, I am talking additional charges or expenses incurred by the service providers, such as parking, filing fees, photocopies, etc. that are billed to the client with the fees for services.

As a general rule, disbursements take on the same GST/HST character as the underlying supply of services.

In 2004, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)  reissued Policy Statement P-209R "Lawyer's Disbursements" and indicated that they took the position that there are two categories of disbursements that may be found on a lawyer's bill:

1) Expenses/disbursements incurred by the lawyer as agent for the client; and

2) Expenses/disbursements not incurred as agent for the client.

The expenses/disbursements incurred as agent may be passed on to the client without additional GST/HST (however, the service provider should not take an input tax credit and then not charge GST/HST as the GST/HST should be passed to the recipient).

The same two categories apply to other service providers.  However, depending on the nature of the services, it may be that for other service providers expenses are not normally incurred in the context of an agency.  As a result, it is important to understand the CRA's administrative position:

The phrase “incurred as agent” indicates that the disbursement described is generally incurred in a lawyer's capacity as agent for a particular client. As such, no GST/HST is exigible on the subsequent reimbursement by the client. The phrase “not incurred as agent” indicates that the disbursement described is generally incurred otherwise than in a lawyer's capacity as agent for a particular client. As such, GST/HST is exigible on the subsequent reimbursement by the client (to the extent that GST/HST is exigible on the consideration for the service provided by the lawyer to the client). The characterization of each disbursement is based on the application of the principles of agency to a typical transaction involving that disbursement.Policy statement P-182R, Agency was used as the basis for this analysis.

In 2010, there have been two important court cases that provide additional guidance on the issue of disbursements (Merchant Law Group v The President of the Canada Revenue Agency (FCA); Roberge Transport Inc. v. The Queen (TCC).  Both cases give guidance that a court will consider as relevant whether the parties had an agency agreement (or some statement concerning the expenses being incurred as agent) in place to support the arguments that the expenses where incurred in the context of an agency. The Roberge Transport case is important to review because it is written by Justice Steven D'Arcy, who was one of the leading GST lawyers in the country before joining the bench in 2009.

Service providers, therefore, should follow the existing policy statement and add what may be taken from the cases.

There are many complex situations where the HST treatment of disbursements will become relevant.

Example 1:  A service provider pays a filing fee to a municipality in circumstances where the filing fee is exempt for GST/HST purposes.   The service provider may be required to charge HST when it bills the disbursement when the service provider is not an agent for the client.

Example 2: A service provider in an HST province (e.g. Ontario) retains a service provider on a sub-contract basis in a non-HST province (e.g., Manitoba) and pays the service provider's invoice and includes the disbursement on the Ontario service provider's invoice to the client.

Example 3: A trucking company providers trucking services to a Canadian manufacturer and incurs inter-provincial fuel taxes that it invoices the client as a disbursement. If the trucking company is not acting as an agent, there may be HST on the incurred taxes depending on the facts.

The answers re whether HST must be charged in respect of a particular disbursement will depend upon the facts.  I can tell you that businesses need more clarification regarding this subject.

My best advice is to read the Policy Statement on "Agency" and "Lawyer's Disbursements" and clearly state in retainer letters and contracts which expenses and disbursements will be incurred as agent for the client.  The list will depend on the business activities and usual disbursements.  You should seek help compiling the "Incurred as Agent" listing.

In addition, it is better to be consistent in your approach to billing disbursements. A billing policy is helpful and should be provided to all sales and billing staff.  Arguments will have greater persuasive value if it can be shown that a particular type of expense is always treated in a certain manner (usually as incurred as agent in order to not charge GST/HST).

Gratuities as Added Consideration For the Supply

I was at an event last night hosted by Women's Post and a woman entrepreneur in the audience who was in the events planning business in Ontario asked why harmonized sales tax (HST) was charged being charged on gratuities (she had noticed this since the implementation of HST).  She noticed that venues and caterers were quoting (1) the charge for the room and/or (2)  the food/beverages and (3) a mandatory gratuity and that HST was being charged on all charges, including the gratuity.

The answer is that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) considers the mandatory gratuity to be extra consideration for the supply (say, of the venue.food/beverages/etc) rather than a contribution towards the salary (non-taxable) of the employees that will be working the event. The CRA had taken this position with the goods and services tax (GST).  GST/HST is payable on the consideration for the supply and since the gratuity is considered by the CRA to be additional consideration, it goes into the calculation/formula.  As a result, the CRA takes the position that GST/HST is payable on the added consideration that is the gratuity portion.

I have seen the same analysis used by CRA when they look at gratuities paid on restaurant meals, resort vacation packages, hair salon services, spa services, etc - whenever there is a mandatory gratuity OR when the gratuity is included in credit card payment (that is the recipient pays adds a gratuity to a credit card payment).  For example, when I go to the hair salon, I pay by VISA.  Before I indicate my PIN number when I use my chip card, I am asked whether I wish to add a tip or gratuity and I usually add 15%-20% of the tax-excluded price for the services rendered.  The CRA when auditing such service providers/venues, adds the gratuity amounts to the consideration for the services and calculates the GST/HST owing.

Based on the cases I have seen, often the service provider does not charge the GST/HST on the gratuity portion and has to dip into their pockets to pay a substantial assessment.

The morale of the story is that when possible, recipients should give waitresses/waiters and service providers cash tips when they are adding an amount to the bill for the exceptions services performed by the individual to the recipient.  If the gratuities are in the invoices or in the credit card payments 13/113 of the amount in Ontario (12/112 in BC, 15/115 in NS, 113/113 in Nfld/Lab. and NB) will not go to the waitress/service provider and will be remitted to the Receiver General of Canada.  This is unfortunate because the individuals affected are making low hourly wages and rely on the gratuities as employment income (to make ends meet).

I have been involved in structuring the payments so that more money goes to the real people who work very hard for the additional employment income - it is possible if a business plans in advance of the CRA visit.

Cascading Taxes: When Is HST Payable In Addition To/Including Another Tax?

A tax on a tax is called a "cascading tax".  Cascading taxes are common in today's world.  As a general rule, most new taxes and levies can result in cascading tax (HST charged on top of the new tax) unless the provincial government asks the federal cabinet to list the new tax in a regulation.

Goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales tax (if applicable) (HST) is calculated on the consideration payable for a supply of property or services.  Subsection 154(2) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) provides that "the consideration for a supply of property or a service includes:

(a) any tax, duty or fee imposed under an Act of Parliament [that means federal laws] that is payable by the recipient or payable or collectible by the supplier, in respect of that supply or in respect of the production, importation, consumption or use of the property or service [other than GST/HST];

(b) any provincial levy [intended to cover provincial laws] that is payable by the recipient or payable or collectible by the supplier, in respect of that supply or in respect of the consumption or use of the property or service, other than a prescribed provincial levy that is payable by the recipient [that means it is in a regulation]; and

(c) any other amount that is collectible by the supplier under an Act of the legislature of any province and that is equal to, or is collectible on account of or in lieu of, a provincial levy, except where the amount is payable by the recipient and the provincial levy is a prescribed levy."

The term "provincial levy" is defined to mean "a tax, duty or fee imposed under an Act of the legislature of a province in respect of the supply, consumption or use of the property  or a service."  What is most significant about this definition is that unless the levy is imposed pursuant to an Act of the legislature of the province, GST/HST would not be payable on the tax-included price. It is always necessary to go to the source of the taxation/fee/levy.

The Taxes, Duties and Fees (GST/HST) Regulations contain a negative list of provincial levies that are excluded from the GST/HST calculation.  If the provincial law is not in the list, then the provincial levy is included in the price for the purposes of calculating GST/HST.

Ontario has a very short list including the following:

  • the Land Transfer Tax Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. L.6,
  • Chapter 760 of the City of Toronto Municipal Code, made under Part X of the City of Toronto Act, 2006, S.O. 2006, c. 11, Sched. A, if the tax, duty or fee would have applied to that transfer under that chapter as it read on February 1, 2008

The Taxes, Duties and Fees (GST/HST) Regulations also prescribe in the list "a tax imposed by the legislature of a province, under an Act referred to in the definition of "general sales tax rate", which includes subsection 2(1) of the Retail Sales Tax Act (Ontario). This exclusion is more complicated, but has been generally applied to exclude Ontario retail sales tax from the calculation of GST.

Now that Ontario has harmonized and is not using the Retail Sales Tax Act to impose taxes representing significant revenue, any new provincial levy may be included in the GST/HST calculation as it would not be listed by the Taxes, Duties and Fees (GST/HST) Regulations.  I say "may" because the other requirements in section 154 of the Excise Tax Act would have to be met. To be excluded from the GST/HST calculation, new taxes must fall within a listed Act in the manner it is identified or the provincial government must ask the Government of Canada (specifically federal cabinet) to change the regulation.

It seems as if in most situations, suppliers assume (and act as if) the tax/fee is included in the calculation of GST/HST because it is the safe thing to do.  However, questions are not asked if this is correct.   For every provincial levy or charge that we might be inclined to include for the purposes of calculating GST/HST, we must ask questions before including the fee in the calculation:

  • Is the tax/fee imposed pursuant to a law of Canada?
  • Is the tax/fee imposed pursuant to an Act of the legislature of a province?
  • Is the tax/fee imposed by a regulation or a rule and there isn't a charging provision in an Act of the legislature (I an thinking carefully about the ecotaxes)?
  • Is the tax/fee imposed under a municipal by-law?
  • On what is the tax/fee imposed?
  • Is a recipient of a supply responsible for paying the tax/fee under the law imposing the tax/fee?
  • Is the supplier of the supply required to collect the tax/fee?

I have serious questions whether the Toronto plastic bag fee is subject to HST.  I have serious questions whether GST/HST should have been charged on top of the ecotaxes.  I have questions whether certain destination marketing fees are subject to GST/HST.  I think that consumers are paying GST/HST on top of many taxes and fees when the GST/HST laws do not require GST/HST to be charged.

The unfortunate reality is that the implementation of HST has incentivized Ontario and British Columbia to cause prices to increase so that they get more HST revenues.  It is in the interest of the government for retailers and suppliers to make mistakes and overcharge consumers.  It is no longer in the interest of Ontario and British Columbia to list new provincial levies in the Taxes, Duties and Fees (GST/HST) Regulations.  It is no longer in the interests of the leaders to keep prices down for consumers.

For this reason, it is more important than ever for businesses and retailers to understand the law and force the governments to follow the law.  It is more important than ever before that provincial levies are imposed in a transparent manner.  It is more important than ever for the people to make it known that there is a cascading tax and the government is accountable to them and needs to request the new tax to be listed.

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File Opening Forms May Provide Useful Information to Auditors

I am a big fan of anticipating a problem during a Canada Revenue Agency audit and solving the problem before it happens.  File opening forms may provide useful information to a CRA auditor.  The first thing they do is they inform the CRA auditor that you are diligent.  You took your GST/HST compliance responsibilities seriously.  You tried to ask the right questions in order to bill correctly.

A file opening form can be useful in recording the information that will allow you to determine whether the harmonized sales tax (HST) place of supply rules apply and at what rate you should be charging HST.

There isn't a single form that will work for all businesses - in other words, you would be wise to work with an HST lawyer or expert to develop the form and learn how to analyze the information on the form in a diligent manner.  If you have a billing policy, then you are more likely to get the answer right.

Some of the information that may be included on a file opening form (and I want to make it clear that this is not an all inclusive list) is:

  1. Date
  2. The correct legal name of the client/customer
  3. If the client is incorporated, the jurisdiction of the corporation and the incorporation number
  4. If the client is a partnership, the jurisdiction of the partnership and the partnership registration number
  5. The head office address or the address at which the individuals are located who provide instructions to you
  6. Name of the prime contact who will be giving instructions
  7. The normal location of that person
  8. Telephone number of the prime contact
  9. Fax number of the prime contact
  10. Email address of the prime contact
  11. If different than 6, the name of the person who hired you
  12. If different than 7, the normal location of the person who hired you
  13. If different than 8, the telephone number of the person who hired you
  14. Will you be providing (a) goods, (b) services, (c) real property, (4) intangible property, or (e) other
  15. A short statement of the proposed work
  16. If you are selling goods, the address to which goods will be shipped
  17. If you are providing services in respect of real property, the address at which you will be providing the services or the location of real property at issue
  18. Your client's/customer's GST/HST registration number

We would be willing to create a special file opening form for your business (for a fee to be determined based on the work involved - e.g., simple business would be $250 plus all applicable taxes).  We will ask more detailed questions about your business and add prompts for information that you will need to apply the HST place of supply rules (and ward away assessments).  We will teach you how to read the information so that you can charge the right amount of HST given your unique circumstances.  To prepare upfront, at the time of file opening, will in all likelihood be less expensive than a CRA assessment.

For more information, please contact me at 416-760-8999.  I am a Canadian sales tax lawyer.

HST = Haveto Sum Together

I have been asked many times over the last few days about reporting of harmonized sales tax (HST) on GST/HST returns.  One question was posed by a retailer who sells paintings across Canada.  He said that in the month of July (so far) he has sold paintings (and delivered the paintings in Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.  He has asked how he must report the GST/HST to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) on his GST/HST return.

My response is that he must add all the GST and HST together and report the combined amount on a single line of his GST/HST return.  I will give an example to help explain:

This is an example that I have made up and does not use the numbers I have been given by any person.  Let's assume we are already at the end of July for the purposes of my example.  The painter sold the following paintings, to the following destinations, and has collected the following amounts of GST and HST:

Painting Destination Value GST Collected HST Collected
Painting 1 British Columbia $10,000 $500 $700
Painting 2 Ontario $20,000 $1000 $1,600
Painting 3 Ontario $10,000 $500 $800
Painting 4 Alberta $30,000 $1,500 0
Painting 5 Nova Scotia $10,000 $500 $1000

The amount of GST/HST that must be reported on a single line on the painter's GST/HST return will be $8,100.  For reporting purposes, it will make no difference how many sales were made in each HST province.  The total combined GST/HST is reported on as a single number.  Believe it or not (agree or not), the governments thought that this approach would be easier and a basis for selling the HST to businesses as a simple tax.

Many ask at this point how each province gets their respective HST.  The payments to provinces go into a big pot of money and are allocated according to complicated formulas in the Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination Agreements (CITCAs)  I will not bore you with the details.

One final point is that the supplier's records must be auditable.  The CRA auditor will know the combined total and will ask how that number was determined.  The details remain relevant and suppliers should keep records that are easy for the auditors (and then the audits are less painful for the suppliers).

HST and Actors/Actresses - Will HST Cause Actors/Actresses to Avoid Canada?

More actors and actresses are concerned that Ontario's and British Columbia's decisions to implement harmonized sales tax (HST) will affect them --- and they should be concerned.  If they do not consider the issue of HST, the cost may be 13% of the contract in Ontario or 12% in British Columbia.  Since an actor/actress may make millions of dollars filming a movie in Canada, we are not talking about small numbers.

Subsection 143(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) provides that:

For the purposes of this Part, a supply of personal property or a service made in Canada by a non-resident person shall be deemed to be made outside Canada, unless
(a) the supply is made in the course of a business carried on in Canada;
(b) at the time the supply is made, the person is registered under Subdivision d of Division V; or
(c) the supply is the supply of an admission in respect of a place of amusement, a seminar, an activity or an event where the non-resident person did not acquire the admission from another person.

If this provision applies, then an actor/actress would not have to register for GST/HST purposes and would not have to charge collect and remit GST/HST on their services performed in Canada.

On the other hand, subsection 240(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) is the provision relating to registration and provides that:

"Every person who makes a taxable supply in Canada in the course of a commercial activity engaged in by the person in Canada is required to be registered for the purposes of this Part, except where
(a) the person is a small supplier;
(b) the only commercial activity of the person is the making of supplies of real property by way of sale otherwise than in the course of a business; or
(c) the person is a non-resident person who does not carry on any business in Canada."

If a person must register for GST/HST purposes, they must charge, collect and remit GST/HST (if applicable) in respect of services performed in Canada (and a participating province).

Assuming that the actor/actress is a non-resident of Canada, the key question is whether they are "carrying on business" in Canada.  There is no definition of "carrying on business in Canada" in the Excise Tax Act.  As a result, whether a particular actor/actress is carrying on business in Canada will depend on the specific facts.  There are many factors specific to the work/life of the actor/actress, their background and their activities in a year that may cause the Canada Revenue Agency (Canada's IRS) (the "CRA) to conclude he/she is carrying on business in Canada as opposed to carrying on business outside Canada and visiting Canada (briefly) in connection with that outside business.

The CRA has issued a policy statement concerning the factors they consider when determining whether a person is carrying on business in Canada --- but none of the examples relates to actors/actresses. Policy Statement P-051R "Carrying on Business in Canada" was last updated in 2005.

It is important to note that getting GST/HST correct may mean that the actor/actress (or their production company) would charge GST/HST on the portion of their services performed in Canada and the payor would recover that GST/HST by way of an input tax credit.  If they do not ask the question, it may result in auditors, assessments and a bad & costly experience.

It is important to note that the GST/HST test is not connected to a permanent establishment in Canada like the Canada-United States Income Tax Treaty. In other words, an individual may not have to pay Canadian income tax and may be entitled to register for GST/HST purposes and charge GST/HST on a contract for services.

Canadian commodity tax lawyers can help apply the CRA's "carrying on business" test and provide opinions that are subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Will ORST Refunds Be Another TFSA Miscommunication?

Many businesses may be entitled to a refund of Ontario retails tax (ORST) paid in respect of goods and/or "taxable services" paid for before July 1, 2010 where the goods and/or "taxable services" are provided after July 1, 2010. 

The best examples I can give are annual subscriptions/licenses of computer software and leases of goods (however, there are other situations).  Please review your invoices to see if you paid an annual or other periodic amount of ORST before July 1, 2010 and set aside those invoices that relate, in part, to the period after July 1, 2010.

As a matter of law, it may be that the Canada Revenue Agency expects to receive harmonized sales tax (HST) for the portion o the supply that occurs after July 1, 2010. The HST transition rules may require an allocation between the pre-HST period and the post-HST period.  It also may be that as a matter of law, you were required to pay ORST on the full invoice at the time it was paid and things changed. You may entitled to receive a refund of ORST paid pre-HST in respect of the post-HST period.  I know that this may sound silly, but tax changes sometimes have silly effects/results.

I have reviewed the Canada Revenue Agency web-site for some guidance on this issue and have found nothing (so far).  I have also reviewed the Ontario Ministry of Revenue web-site for some guidance on this issue and have found nothing (so far).  It is for this reason that I am saying that the HST may be a source of confusion, like tax free savings accounts.  It would be helpful for businesses to be told clearly what is expected of them.

I will give an example in order to clarify: 

For example, some businesses and MUSH sector entities may an annual license for computer software in May 2010 and paid Ontario retail sales tax in addition to GST and the lump sum annual lease price.  In this example, computer software was licensed for a year for $120,000 and GST would have been $6000 and ORST would have been $9600. However, the ORST portion would be in respect of software that could be used post HST and, therefore, the purchaser must pay HST is respect of the period after June 30, 2010.  10 of 12 months would be subject to HST instead of ORST.  As a result, the purchaser would have to self-assess and remit HST on $100,000 = $8,000.  The business would be entitled to a refund of ORST from the Ministry of Revenue in the amount of $8000.

The self-assessment would occur on the GST/HST return for the first reporting period after July 1, 2010.  There is a line on the GST/HST return for self-assessed GST/HST.

The refund application would not be filed with the CRA, but, rather would be filed with the Ontario Ministry of Revenue. Here is the general refund application form - it is difficult to find on the Ontario Ministry of Revenue web-site.

This may sound silly - robbing Peter in order to pay Peter (and Paul). Some businesses for some purchases may pay both HST and ORST and will have to wait to get the ORST back.  These same businesses have audit risk under both the ORST and HST tax regimes.  The business has paid the correct amount of tax initially and then has a problem and can be assessed for failing to ensuring the tax was paid to the right person. 

You will not be able to say that ultimately Ontario received its money because technically under the HST regime, the HST goes into a pot of money and that money is allocated according to formulas, which are not based on the place of supply.  The formulas do not allow for a matching of HST to a particular province.

In a more perfect tax system, there would be a joint CRA and Ontario Ministry of Finance form that would allow a business to identify payments of ORST in the pre-HST period that cover the post-HST period.  In a more perfect tax system, the governments would ask for a copy of the invoice and make the corrections for you.  In a more perfect tax system the governments would waive interest and penalties when there is not intention to underpay sales taxes.  It should be easy for businesses to comply with sales tax laws, but sometimes it is not simple or easy.

Have You Picked "The Chosen One" in Accounts Payable?

One risk-management step that is often over-looked in a time of sales tax reform is selecting "The Chosen One" in accounts payable who is tasked with reviewing all incoming invoices to ensure that suppliers are properly charging sales taxes. 

When auditors arrive with their spreadsheets in hand, they conduct a (1) purchase side audit and (2) a sales side audit. During the purchase side audit, the auditor reviews a sample of incoming invoices to ensure that the business under audit has paid the right amount of sales tax on its business inputs.  Where a supplier to the business does not charge retail sales tax (ORST) or goods and services tax (GST), the auditor will assess the purchaser business - as it is allowed to do under the law.

Businesses can control this assessment risk by assigning the task of reviewing incoming invoices to a trained person - "The Chosen One".  This accounts payable employee will review each incoming invoice and either seek corrections from the supplier or make arrangements to self-assess the tax that is applicable, but not charged.

With the start of harmonized sales tax (HST) in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, this is a perfect time to ensure that someone is actively reviewing incoming invoices.  First, you will want to make sure that suppliers are no longer charging ORST on invoices for goods and services provided after June 30, 2010.  If a supplier still shows ORST or PST (provincial sales tax) or RST (retail sales tax) as being charged on the invoice, you will want to follow-up and ask for a revised invoice.  It must be clear that ORST/PST/RST is not being charged.  It may be that HST is being charged, but it must be clear so that an auditor is not confused.

On that point, HST is supposed to be a single combined tax.  The vendor is not supposed to separate the charges into GST and HST on the invoice (except where the supplies are subject to the recaptured ITC rules).  As a result, in Ontario, the invoice should identify 13% HST and no 5% GST and 8% HST separately.

In addition, "The Chosen One" should review incoming invoices to ensure that HST is being charged where applicable.  As a result , you will need to determine when you must pay HST (not just when you must charge HST).  You will have to understand the HST place of supply rules as they apply to purchases.

Businesses outside the HST Zone will also have to have "The Chosen One" selected and briefed on the HST place of supply rules.  You should expect to see some invoices arriving from the HST Zone that will automatically charge HST at the applicable provincial rate of the supplier because that will be the safe default position.  Communication will be important after the implementation of HST to correct these types of errors.  When in doubt regarding the application of HST, the purchaser may obtain an advance ruling from the GST/HST Directorate of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Finally, non-residents of Canada that purchase goods/property and/or services from Canadian businesses also need to have "The Chosen One".  Many Canadian businesses have adjusted their billing systems with the implementation of HST.  There will be situations where previously zero-rated supplies (GST charged at 0%) will default in the computer systems to 12%, 13% or 15% HST depending on the location of the supplier.  A quick call to the supplier to notify them of the change would be in order so that the computer errors can be corrected.

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Tip: 3 Days Left in Pre-HST World: Do Some File Cleaning

Today is June 28, 2010 and there are only three more days left in pre-HST Ontario/BC.  Those in the service industry (where files are maintained for clients) should bill for services rendered before July 1, 2010.  Services rendered before July 1, 2010 are not subject to harmonized sales tax ("HST").  In addition, many services are not subject to Ontario retail sales tax ("ORST") - only "taxable services" as defined in the Retail Sales Tax Act (Ontario) are subject to ORST in Ontario.

I offer this advice to help not confuse an auditor - close any dormant files on Monday-Wednesday  (June 28-30, 2010) (pre-HST period).  Send those files to records (and you will not have to pay HST on the service fee of the moving company if the service is performed before July 1).  Hire a temporary worker to provide assistance in the pre-HST period and save the HST.  Both GST and HST are payable of the services provided by temporary employees services.  If your employee (that is, he or she is on your payroll and is not a third party service provider or employed by a third party service provider) provides the assistance in closing the files in the computerized system and putting the files in boxes, then his/her employment related services are not subject to wither GST/HST.

You will both clean your office and save the HST at the same time.  More importantly, you will have documentation to show that the files were closed prior to HST.  You will have additional proof to give an auditor that you took steps to make a clear division for the purposes of the application of the HST transition rules. The easier you make it for the auditor, the easier you make it for yourself.

In addition, if that client comes back and needs more work performed by you post-HST, you can open a new file, gather the new information for your HST decision tree and start fresh (and start charging HST where applicable).

Tip on Pre-HST Billings

Many service providers (such as lawyers, accountants, marketing gurus, consultants, advisors, custom computer  software programmers, certain graphic designers, etc.) do not currently charge Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) on their services.  Starting on July 1, 2010, these service providers must charge harmonized sales tax (HST).

The HST transition rules provide that if services are commenced prior to July 1, 2010 and continue after July 1, 2010, the supplier will be required to allocate between the pre-HST period and post-HST period and not charge HST on the pre-HST period and charge HST on the post-HST period. An allocation is required (except if 90% or more of the services are provided prior to July 1, 2010).

Suppliers need to maintain evidence to provide to Canada Revenue Agency auditors.  While it is incorrect to say that all auditors are difficult idiots, I often tell clients to assume that such an auditor will show up on their doorstep in the future to conduct an audit.  What evidence and documentation are you going to have to prove your point to the auditor?  With respect to not charging HST on pre-July 1, 2010 supplies of services, what evidence are you going to be able to present?

Good documentation will include docket entries, time sheets, employee punch cards, etc.  What will also be helpful are invoices issued in June 2010 billing the client for pre-July 1, 2010 services that have been performed.  I often refer to this as "blowing out your WIP (work in progress).  If you issue a bill and it is recorded in your computer system prior to July 1, 2010, it must be that the the services recorded as being provided before July 1, 2010 were actually provided. Note that if you are billing in May/June 2010 for services to be rendered on or after July 1, 2010, HST will be applicable.

I have one caveat that I have to highlight - you need to ask whether it is likely your client will pay the invoice. If a supplier issues an invoice prior to July 1, 2010 and must charge GST (that is, the supply is not zero-rated or exempt), the supplier will be required to remit the GST to the Receiver General of Canada with the GST/HST return for the reporting period in which the invoice is issued (e.g., June 2010).  If the recipient does not pay the GST by the GST/HST return filing deadline, the supplier still must remit the GST.  As a result, there can be a cash flow issue.

If a supplier cannot issue an invoice, we are recommending a "WIP freeze".  This means that the supplier would generate a document that would evidence the pre-July 1, 2010 work in progress.  Depending on the circumstances, the document may evidence the number of hours worked and/or the value of the services rendered prior to July 1, 2010.  The document will need to be supported by some verifiable data (e.g. a date stamped printout of computerized records). The method must be able to withstand scrutiny and be reasonable in the circumstances.  What is communicated (and the words used) may be important as auditors assessment radar is often triggered by the words taxpayers use.

I would be pleased to provide services to help you generate evidence of the provision of pre-HST services.

I should also mention that it is better to do generate the evidence now as an employee may not be available at the time the auditor arrives. In other words, it is sometimes difficult to substantiate facts at a later point in time.

June Billings & HST Transition Rules

I was speaking with a service provider (marketing advisory services) in Ontario the other day about her June 2010 billings.  She said that she will be sending out invoices on June 15, 2010 in respect of services to be provided between July 1, 2010 - July 31, 2010.  She does not currently charge Ontario retail sales tax on her advisory services.  She asked me whether she is required to charge Ontario harmonized sales tax (HST).

The answer is yes (assuming the client being billed is located in the province of Ontario).  ABC Co. would charge GST on her marketing advisory services.  She would remit the GST with her GST return for the period June 1, 2010-June 30, 2010 (she is a monthly filer).

She would also add HST to the invoices.  However, she would remit the HST collected with the GST/HST return for the post-HST implementation period being her July 1-July 31, 2010 GST/HST return, which is due at the end of August 2010. She does not include the HST in the GST/HST return that she files in July even though the HST was invoiced in June 2010.

Yes, there is an unusual delay in the remittance of the HST.  This is because the HST must go into the HST pot so that it can be properly allocated to the HST Zone provinces (including Ontario).  If the HST is remitted to the Government of Canada in July, Premier McGuinty does not get any of the money.  Also, the supplier would be making a mistake and may be penalized at the time of an audit.

The New Harmonized Value-Added Tax System Regulations Contain a Surprise - An Anti-Avoidance Rule

The June 9, 2010 Canada Gazette (Part II,  Vol 144, No. 12) contained the New Harmonized Value-Added Tax System Regulations SOR/2010-117. Part 2 (section 34-37 contain the HST anti-avoidance rules.  These rules are in addition to the general anti-avoidance rule in section 274 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and the Ministerial discretion in subsection 2(18) and section 6 of the Retail Sales Tax Act (Ontario).

In short, related parties (parties operating at non-arms length) may see their tax planning challenged by the Canada Revenue Agency and additional assessments of harmonized sales tax (HST) levied where the Minister believes there is a tax benefit flowing from a transaction with no bona fide business purpose.  The HST anti-avoidance rules do not appear to apply to arm's length parties.

First, the time frames - the HST anti-avoidance rules apply to transactions that occurred after March 26, 2009 (the date of Ontario's HST budget announcement). In particular, Part 5 of the Regulations provide:

  • Section 35 applies to any agreement varied,
    altered or terminated on or after March 26,
    2009 and to any new agreement entered into on
    or after that day.
  • Section 36 applies to any agreement varied,
    altered or terminated on or after April 6,
    2010 and to any new agreement entered into on
    or after that day.
  • Section 37 applies to any transaction made
    on or after March 26, 2009.

My first reaction is - poor souls in British Columbia.  The drafters of the Regulations are mistaken and must believe that the B.C. HST announcement occurred at the same time as Ontario and not on July 23, 2009.

Next, what appears to be covered:

  • Non-arm's length transactions entered into between March 26, 2009 and July 1, 2010 that are altered or varied or terminated
  • Non-arm's length transactions entered into after a tax rate change announcement that are altered or varied or terminated
  • Non-arm's length transactions or series of transactions would in the absence of this section result, directly or indirectly, in a tax benefit to one or more of the persons involved in the transaction or series of transactions it may not reasonably be considered that the transaction, or the series of transactions, has been undertaken or arranged primarily for bona fide purposes other than to obtain a tax benefit, arising from a harmonization event, for one or more of the persons involved in the transaction or series of transactions.

I would like to highlight something that is written in the Regulatory Impact Statement (at the end of the Regulation) after reading the part under "Consultations"

The Regulations are designed to reflect previous HST announcements of proposed rules by Ontario and British Columbia on October 14, 2009 and by the Government of Canada on February 25, 2010.

I must have missed the anti-avoidance rules announcement.

Finally, after re-reading the Regulatory Impact Statement regarding the anti-avoidance provisions, businesses that have expanded into another province after March 26, 2009 may find their business activities under a CRA microscope and will have to prove their legitimate business purpose to an auditor:

The Regulations also set out rules to prevent persons from improperly taking advantage of a change in the new harmonized value-added tax system under the Excise Tax Act. Such changes include the addition of a province to the system, a change to the tax rate of a participating province or a change to a rebate of the provincial component of the HST.

The anti-avoidance rules in these Regulations apply where persons not dealing at arm’s length with each other enter into transactions to obtain a tax benefit as a result of a change in the new harmonized value-added tax system and not primarily for bona fide purposes other than to obtain the tax benefit. In these circumstances, the Regulations allow the Minister of National Revenue to assess the participants in the transactions in order to deny the tax benefit. Generally, the aim of the harmonization anti avoidance rules is to prevent persons not dealing at arm’s length from attempting to avoid the HST simply to obtain a tax benefit and for no bona fide purpose.

Here are the HST anti-avoidance rules (which are long and difficult to read):

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HST Means No More ORST Purchase Exemption Certificates

I received the following question today:

I am a furniture manufacturer who works with interior designers.  When I invoice, if an item is being re-sold by the designer then I do not invoice the Ontario retail sales tax (ORST).  The designer will invoice ORST directly to the client. How will this change with the HST?  Will my clients be exempt if they are re-selling an item?   Also, when I purchase materials for manufacture many items such as wood, screws glue etc are PST exempt when I purchase them and get added into the cost once sold to the customer?  How will the HST deal with this?

The answer is that the furniture manufacturer will be required to charge HST when he/she sells to the interior designer.  The interior designer is no longer entitled to provide an ORST purchase exemption certificate to be exempted from payment of sales tax.  The interior designer will pay the GST/HST and claim an input tax credit (if he/she is registered for GST/HST purposes.  The interior designer will charge the final consumer GST/HST.

In addition, the furniture manufacturer will no longer purchase his/her inputs using an ORST purchase exemption certificate.  In other words, the furniture manufacturer must pay GST/HST on all materials and components used in the manufacture of the furniture.  The furniture manufacturer would be entitled to claim an input tax credit if he/she is registered for GST/HST purposes.

This will result in cost flow issues for both the manufacturer and the interior designer (the two businesses in the example).  The businesses will have to fund the GST/HST portion when paying invoices and will be able to claim input tax credits (and offset GST/HST collected) on their GST/HST returns for the period during which the supply occurred.  I am told that some businesses may need to increase their lines of credit in order to fund the HST component that was previously ORST exempt by virtue of the purchase exemption certificate.

To be clear, on July 1, 2010, purchase exemption certificates will be invalid for purchases after July 1, 2010.  The days of the sales tax relief will over gone for good.  The Canada Revenue Agency auditors will be auditing the entire supply chain to make sure that GST/HST was paid at each step in the supply chain.

Ontario Government and BC Government May Not Follow HST Transition Rules & Give Selves Sale Tax Holiday

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has issued GST/HST Info Sheet GI-073 "Ontario and British Columbia: Transition to the Harmonized Sales Tax - Payment of the GST/HST by Ontario and B.C. Government Entities (May 2010) and the examples provided put the government entities in Appendix A outside the HST transition rules. So, I have to warn suppliers to the Appendix A government entities to be careful because CRA auditors may try to apply the transition rules.  I find it funny and sad that the Governments do not follow their own transition rules to save the HST (when businesses and consumers do not get the same breaks).

Example 3 in GI 073 provides as follows:

In may 2010, an Ontario ministry, which is listed on schedule A to the RTA, orders and pays for furniture, but the furniture will not be delivered and ownership will not be transferred to the Ontario ministry until August 2010.  The furniture is acquired in the name of the Province and the Ontario ministry provides a Crown funds exemption request or certification clause to the supplier.

Because the Ontario ministry is listed on Schedule A to the RTA, and the consideration for the supply of the furniture is paid before July 1, 2010, the Ontario ministry will continue to claim an exemption from GST/HST.  Therefore, the supplier does not charge GST/HST on the consideration for the supply of the furniture to the Ontario ministry.  In this case, the supplier may accept the Ontario ministry's Crown funds exemption request or certification clause requesting relief from both the GST and the HST as the consideration for the supply was paid before July 1, 2010.

The HST transition rules applicable to everyone else were released on October 14, 2009. The HST transition rule for tangible personal property (goods) provided that if tangible personal property was purchased after May 1, 2010 and consideration was paid between May 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010 and the tangible personal property was delivered on or after July 1, 2010, HST would be applicable.  To save the HST, the tangible personal property would have to be purchased before May 1, 2010 and the consideration paid before May 1, 2010. As a result, the Ontario and B.C. Governments have beneficial treatment not available to others. 

The other interesting issue relating to Example 3 is that Ontario retail sales tax or B.C. social service tax would be payable if the furniture had been delivered before July 1, 2010.  So, it looks like (according to the CRA's GI-073) the rules applicable to Ontario and B.C. provide the Government entities with a tax holiday between May 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010.  How is that fair?

All I can say is for suppliers to the Ontario Government and BC Government to beware.  This does not seem correct.

Ontario's Small Business Support Payments Will Be Taxable For 2010 Income Taxes

A representative of the federal government confirmed this week that the amounts paid by the Ontario Government as small business transition support payments will be considered to be income for income tax purposes and will be taxable.  As a result, the $300 - $1000 just became a smaller amount that can be spent on harmonized sales tax (HST) compliance.

What is an interesting twist is that Ontario signed on to HST after the Federal Government agreed to provide a certain amount of money.  Did the Ontario negotiators realize that some of that money would go right back to the federal government in the form of income tax?

Small businesses must remember to include this one small time payment as income when reporting their 2010 income.  if they forget, the Canada Revenue Agency (the entity that is responsible for making the list of who is to receive the transition payment and how much they are to receive) may assess unreported income tax, penalties and interest.

British Columbia Government Restructures Itself To Save HST Costs

The Globe and Mail newspaper is reporting in an article entitled "B.C. alters health structure to avoid $3.5 million HST bill" published on May 7, 2010 that the British Columbia is undergoing a restructuring. The B.C. Ministry of Health Services and the CEOs of the provincial health authorities have agreed to tuck the Shared Services Organization, which provides services such as computer support and bulk purchasing for the health sector, under one of the health departments / crown entities.

The reason for the reorganization is that the Shared Services Organization would otherwise be required to charge HST on supplies made to the Government of British Columbia and other provincial health entities AND cannot recover all of the HST by way of input tax credits or public service bodies rebates.  Hopefully we will get more detailed about the reorganization to learn whether the changes create exempt supplies (instead of taxable supplies) or non-taxable labour.  This will help us identify other HST savings opportunities.

The question that taxpayers should be asking is whether the Ontario Government and the B.C Government have undertaken a complete analysis of their internal operations in order to address all situations where the provincial government must pay #HST (and GST) on supplies made in the province (or to businesses in HST provinces) that is not recoverable.  We should be asking if HST is going to cause provincial budgets to balloon.  We should be asking whether those who are implementing HST recognize the cost effects associated with HST.  Proof of understanding the cost effects is the government itself taking steps to minimize the negative effects within the government spending structure.

I would guess that the Ontario Government has not asked each and every government employee and manager and Deputy Minister to go over their budgets to identify unrecoverable HST costs within Ministry, department and Crown entity budgets.  Let's wait for the NDP and Conservative opposition parties to find what the governing HST Liberals have overlooked.  I will predict a few big budget line items increasing due to unrecoverable HST.  This will be a topic for discussion and accountability into the future (after HST implementation).  I wonder if the Ontario Ombudsman is going to be busy looking at HST issues.

The other side to this story is that if the BC and Ontario governments must reorganize due to HST,: what about businesses?  Both Ontario and British Columbia have said that HST will reduce administrative costs for business.  Well, here is an example within the BC Government that shows an INCREASE in administrative costs resulting from the implementation of HST.  The reality is that HST will increase administrative costs for certain businesses (especially where amounts are paid for services and other goods and services not subject to provincial sales tax).

The tax officials' counter-argument is that businesses (like the BC Government) can reorganize to avoid increased HST administrative costs.  That is correct.  Steps may, in certain cases, be made to minimize HST costs.  However, the restructuring of business organizations will cost businesses money - legal fees, accounting fees, advisors fees, etc.  So, businesses must spend money during the worst economic recession in recent years in order to save HST in the future.  In addition, any business that reorganizes will have to ask questions whether their restructuring may be challenged by the Canada Revenue Agency using the GST/HST general anti-avoidance rule.  It may not be so simple.

Ontario Government Email Alert at 5:02AM Today About HST Starting

At 5:02AM this morning I received an email alert from the Ontario Ministry of Revenue about harmonized sales tax obligations starting today.  First, I must say "Thank you for the notice".

Here is the contents of the emailed "Revenue Alert:

Reminder: Helping Businesses Transition To The Harmonized Sales Tax


What You Need To Know For May 1
On July 1, 2010, the retail sales tax will be replaced with a more modern, value-added tax that will be combined with the federal GST to create a harmonized sales tax for Ontario.
To help ease the transition to the HST, Ontario released general transitional rules in October 2009. Some of these rules take effect May 1.


What You Need to Know
 

• As of May 1, the HST will generally apply on pre-payments for products and services that are going to be provided or performed on or after July 1.
• The HST should not be charged for any goods received or services performed before July 1.


These transition rules are consistent with the approach used in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec. They are also similar to the transition rules that were used for the GST. BC has also largely adopted these transition rules.
The HST and cuts to business taxes will cut Ontario's marginal effective tax rate on new investment in half. Ontario will be providing $4.6 billion in tax relief over three years, including Corporate Income Tax cuts starting July 1, 2010.


• Find out more about the General Transitional Rules for Ontario HST
• Read about the Canada Revenue Agency's HST transitional rules
• Read more about What You Need to Know to prepare for the HST
• Get the list of Important Dates to Remember
 

Not the most helpful.  There were no attachments (but there were the four links that I am able to click on).

The Ontario Ministry of Revenue is not asking the most important question "How can the Government of Ontario help businesses comply with the HST rules that result from our tax reform decisions?"  The Ontario Government should do more to make it as easy as possible for Ontario businesses and businesses selling to people in Ontario to be able to comply with the new HST rules.

The fact that this is a similar approach to the approach in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador is irrelevant to the business owner who is struggling in the current economic climate.  The fact that marginal rate rates may be lower and may encourage new businesses to come to Ontario is also not important to the existing businesses.

Business owner wants someone to help them understand what they have to do to keep auditors happy.  No business owner wants auditors to find mistakes.  No Ontario business owner wants to be assessed in 1-2-3-or 4 or more years.

What is glaringly missing from today's email is basic instructions.

1) If you take on order after April 30, 2010 to sell a good AND will deliver the good after June 30, 2010, HST is collectible.  if you take an order after April 30, 2010 to sell a good AND deliver the good before July 1, 2010, HST is not collectible.

2) If you enter into a lease after April 30, 2010 to lease a good AND the lease term extends beyond June 30, 2010, HST is collectible on the part of the lease that takes place after June 30, 2010, but not the part before July 1, 2010).

3) If you enter into a verbal or written contract after April 30, 2010 to provide services AND the services are to be performed in whole or in part after June 30, 2010, HST is collectible in respect of services to be performed after June 30, 2010 (unless 90% of the services are performed before July 1, 2010 and certain other conditions are satisfied).  if you enter into a contract after April 30, 2010 to provide services and the services are performed in whole before July 1, 2010, HST is not collectible.

4)  If you entered into a written agreement of purchase and sale for residential real property in Ontario into after June 18, 2009, AND both ownership and possession are transferred after June 2010, HST is collectible.

5) If you sell a subscription to a magazine or periodical or newspaper and receive payment for the subscription in full before July 1, 2010, then HST is not collectible. If you sell a subscription to a magazine or periodical or newspaper and receive payment for the subscription in full after June 30, 2010, then HST is collectible.

6) I you collect HST before July 1, 2010, DO NOT add it to your GST/HST return until after July 1, 2010.  DO NOT include the HST in tax collected on your GST/HST filed in May or June 2010.  Include the HST in GST/HST return after July 1, 2010.

7) If your situation is not covered by the above rules because your business activity straddles the pre-July and post-HST periods, consult with an expert or the Ontario Ministry of Revenue (and take notes of who you spoke with and the advice they gave in case you need a due diligence defence in the future).

The Canada Revenue Agency Takes the Position that a Deposit is Not Consideration

Based on the current Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) position on deposits, a vendor/purchaser may not be able to get around the harmonized sales tax (HST) transition rules by having a client/customer pre-pay a deposit on April 30 or before.  The CRA's position (following statutory provisions in the GST Legislation) is that a deposit is not treated as a payment for a supply until the supplier applies it against the consideration for that supply. For example, if a person pays a deposit of $100 in April 2010 but the consideration for a taxable supply of property/a service becomes due (and the deposit is applied) on or after July 1, the $100 deposit and the balance of the consideration will be subject to HST.

The relevant statutory provision is subsection 168(9) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada), which provides:

For the purposes of [the rules on when tax is payable], a deposit (other than a deposit in respect of a covering or container ...), whether refundable or not, given in respect of a supply shall not be considered as consideration paid for the supply unless and until the supplier applies the deposit as consideration for the supply."

This provision does not leave much discretion to the CRA auditors.  I can look into my crystal ball and hear them now quoting this section after HST implementation and saying that they have no choice as the Act mandates them to issue assessments in respect of deposits.  Without a legal clarification or an administrative statement, there is assessment risk - real assessment risk.

The reason for this rule is that until the property or service is actually supplied, it is not known what was provided and whether it was provided.  It is possible that  a service/good is never be provided and, therefore, the deposit would be returned.  It is possible that an exempt or zero-rated service would be provided and, therefore, no GST/HST would be payable. 

The characterization as a refundable deposit is the problem.  The same problem exists relating to retainers and other forms of deposit that are money on account and not consideration for property or services.

Please be careful to characterize pre-payments as pre-payments.  Otherwise, a CRA auditor may take the position in the future that HST was payable, collectible and/or remittable on amounts paid before the May 1, 2010 transition rule deadline.

A little guidance is provided in CRA New Memorandum Series 19.1 Real Property and GST/HST.  For clarification, the problem is NOT restricted to real property - this is just a policy to read.  The CRA has not issued a policy statement on deposits.

Vendors in Ontario and BC Face Audit Risk If Fail To Follow HST Transition Rules

Many businesses in Ontario and British Columbia are not prepared for harmonized sales tax (HST) transition, which starts on May 1, 2010.  Yes, July 1, 2010 is the official implementation date for HST.  However, the transition rules require businesses that deliver property and/or render services after (or lease goods beyond) July 1, 2010 to collect and remit HST with respect to consideration paid after May 1, 2010.  In other words, any contracts entered into after May 1, 2010 where consideration is paid after May 1, 2010 for property delivered or leased or services rendered after July 1, 2010 would be subject to HST.  The two key facts to remember for the HST transition rules at issue are (1) delivery/provision/rental after July 1, 2010 and (2) payment received after May 1, 2010.

It is not clear why the Governments decided to implement this transition rule - except the concern that consumers and exempt businesses would somehow circumvent HST in the months of May and June 2010.

In the end, it is businesses that are most at risk.  If a vendor makes a mistake and fails to charge HST, they may be audited and assessed a penalty for failure to collect HST.  When this happens, the HST is an unrecoverable cost to the business (unless the business can pursue the consumer).

If you consider goods, this is where the vendor may get hit hard.  The vendor of goods would likely collect both GST and Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) (unless the goods are exempt from ORST) in May or June because most goods are subject to ORST.  However, a Canada Revenue Agency auditor can come along and reassess the vendor for HST if the transition rules apply.

For example, if a vendor enters into a contract to sell a $200,000 motor home on May 15, 2010 and receives payment in full, he/she may collect GST in the amount of $10,000 and mistakenly collect ORST in the amount of $16,000.  If the motor home is delivered in August 2010 (because it needed to be manufactured), the vendor should have collected HST and not ORST.  If the vendor remits the GST to the Receiver General of Canada and the ORST to the Minister of Finance in Ontario, a Canada Revenue Agency auditor may assess the vendor for failure to collect and remit HST (or may even take the position that the ORST was actually HST and that the vendor collected and did not remit HST).  The vendor may be assessed the $16,000 and interest and a penalty for making a mistake.  This mistake could require the vendor to pay over $20,000 depending on when the audit occurs (taking into account interest and penalties).

If more than one mistake is made between May 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010, the amounts could really add up.

The HST transition rules are flawed.  The vendor may face a catch-22 situation.  If the vendor promises to deliver the motor home on June 25, 2010 and collects the $200,000 on May 15, 2010, the vendor would believe the $16,000 is ORST.  The vendor must remit the ORST with its May ORST return that is due on June 23, 2010.  If the motor home is not available by June 30, 2010 and the motor home is delivered after July 1, 2010, the HST transition rules would turn the ORST into HST.  Under the HST transition rules, the vendor would be required to remit the HST with it GST/HST return for July 2010, which is due on August 30, 2010.  In other words, the vendor is required to keep the HST a little bit longer and remit the amount to the Receiver General of Canada instead of the Minister of Finance.

It will be easy for an auditor to come along in 2012 and say what a vendor should have done in the circumstances.  The auditor may not be sympathetic to the fact that the vendor did collect the right amount of sales taxes and that the Government of Ontario actually was not out any money.

Where the Government of Ontario would be out money is with respect previously non-taxable services and previously exempt goods.  With respect to the ORST exempt goods, Ontario taxation policy effectively changes on May 1, 2010 (e.g., custom computer software, bicycles, manufacturing and production equipment, etc.).

With respect to services, this is really the focus of the HST transition rules,  Here are some links to articles I have written that may help service providers:

 

The ORST Audits Have Started

I have heard from two clients this week that I have not spoken to in about 3 years.  They both have informed me that they have been contacted by the Ontario Ministry of Finance, which has informed them that they are conducting a retail sales tax (ORST) audit.  They are being audited for the period 2006-2010 (a 4 year period).

Both clients had a prior audit experience.  Both clients asked me if they are being targeted.  I answered - the auditors are doing their jobs and that audits are a normal part of the HST plans.  Most Ontario vendors will be visited by ORST auditors in the next two years.

The good news for these two clients is that we implemented improved compliance procedures since the last audit and that we are comfortable that the audit will be quicker and less painful than the last time.

My advice to companies that have been audited (for ORST) in the past is to expect an ORST audit in the future.  Check your compliance procedures.  Test a month of documents to ensure that the problems previously discovered by the auditor have been corrected (have not reoccurred).  If errors have occurred, determine what you can do to bring yourself into compliance.  Take control over the audit experience by being prepared and ready.  Make sure your documents are in order.  Make sure your accounting records are in order.  Make sure you paid ORST where required on your purchases and you collected and remitted ORST where required on your sales.

A good audit is one that results in the auditor walking away without levying an assessment.  It is possible.

Here Is An Idea - Scheduled ORST Audits

The HST Blog is a forum where practitioners should be able to raise good ideas.  I have one to share with you - Since there must be audits, wouldn't it be nice if you could schedule an Ontario retail sales tax audit after July 1, 2010? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to be able say to the Ontario Government that you wish to invite them to your business to conduct the final Ontario retail sales tax audit so that you can put the assessment risk behind you?

Not all businesses would opt for a voluntary audit in the hopes that mistakes will become statute barred (the Retail Sales Tax Act contains a 4 year limitation period, which can be extended if there is a misrepresentation attributable to neglect carelessness or wilful default or fraud).  However, the businesses that have taken care to comply with the Retail Sales Tax Act and regulations thereto would have little to be concerned about and would line up early to close the ORST books.

if there were to be scheduled audits, the business people can arrange their schedules and have the relevant records ready for an auditors review.  This would be a fair approach.  This would be business-friendly approach.

So, Ontario - what do you say to a program where vendors and purchasers can call and schedule a retail sales tax audit at a convenient time?

Would You Like To Play Audit Roulette In Ontario?

Last week at the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants Commodity Tax Symposium West in Calgary, a representative of Ontario stated to the audience that Ontario planned to conduct retail sales tax audits of most businesses in the next two years.

Pursuant to the Retail Sales Tax Act (Ontario), the normal audit period is four years. The audit period may be extended where there has been a misrepresentation attributable to neglect, carelessness or wilful default.

This is important to know because after the implementation of the harmonized sales tax (HST) on July 1, 2010, the Ontario Government will want to make sure that it has received all the retail sales tax required under the law as it was prior to HST. Just because we are moving to the HST, retail sales tax liabilities will continue. Auditors will continue to visit businesses (some would say plague businesses - but that is not very nice).

Businesses are now playing audit roulette. Will the auditor find the retail sales tax problems/mistakes that the business has been ignoring?

Businesses have three primary choices:

1. Continue to play audit roulette by continuing to ignore legacy retail sales tax problems;

2. Conduct an internal audit or control audit with a sales tax lawyer, accountant or consultant, identify the existing problems, and make a voluntary disclosure to report the mistakes to the Ministry of Revenue (come clean so to speak); and

3. Conduct an internal audit or control audit with a sales tax lawyer, accountant or consultant, identify the existing problems/mistakes and improved the processes and retroactively solve the problems to reduce exposure. For example, if a business sells goods that will be incorporated into goods for resale or will be resold by the purchaser, the business may ensure its purchase exemption certificates are in order. Another example would be that if a business should have collected tax on a transaction, they may send an invoice to the customer and remit the tax to the Ontario Government. Another example would be that if a business imported goods and failed to report and pay retail sales tax in respect of the importation, they may do so before an auditor knows on the door.

In addition, vendors and customers should communicate with each other about audits as the Minister is not entitled to impose a penalty on a vendor who failed to collect tax and assess the buyer for failure to pay tax on the same transaction --- the Minister cannot receive the same tax from both parties.

Audits take up the human resources of company officials and interfere with the operation of the business. Proactive steps by a business does save money, time and aggravation.