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.

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.

Sales Tax Tip: Ask to Include the Auditor's Manager in Discussions

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.