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.

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.

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).