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.

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.

I Did Not Stay Extra Time in Nova Scotia Because of 15% HST

I was in Nova Scotia for the Canadian Bar Association convention in Halifax.  I could have stayed an extra few days to enjoy the scenery and experience a "vacation".  However, after days of seeing 15% HST charged on my bills, I decided to go home to Ontario.  I admit it, I was turned off by the higher HST rate.  I knew that many goods and services are less expensive in Nova Scotia, the higher tax rate still affected my decision - rightly or wrongly.

I went into the Baton Rouge restaurant on a Monday night at 8:30 PM and it was virtually empty.  It was almost empty on a nice night in the summer.  This is a symptom of a bigger problem. 

When I purchased goods in Nova Scotia, it bought things that I could not find in Ontario.  I bought super seven crystal (and other hard to find crystals) at Little Mysteries bookstore.  I bought a Buddha Board (I love this purchase) at a neat little store on Grafton. I did not buy clothes or goods that could be purchased at home.

Why am I writing this on my blog?  Someone needs to provide evidence that the higher HST rate affects decisions.  Nova Scotians commented to me that the economy is struggling in Nova Scotia and the recent times have been difficult for people. 

Nova Scotians - please provide comments so that your storied (good and bad) are available for your elected representatives to read.  Please use clean language as I do not publish words that I would not say to my Grandmother.

HST Place of Supply Rules for Customs Brokers

On February 25, 2010, the Department of Finance released a News Release about what will be the HST place of supply rules after regulations are promulgated. Interestingly, the Department of Finance is going to create a separate rule for customs brokerage services. "Customs brokerage services" are currently understood to mean:

"a service of arranging for the release of imported goods, or fulfilling, in respect of the importation, (whether before, at the time of or after the release) any accounting,, reporting or information requirements imposed under the Customs Act or the Customs Tariff Act or any requirements under either of those Acts to remit any amount."

Since I wrote on March 17, 2010 about the HST rules for imports, I thought I should share the funny little place of supply rules for customs brokers services.

In the February 25, 2010 News Release, the Department of Finance wrote:

Under the current rules, the place of supply of a service of arranging for the release of imported goods, or fulfilling, in respect of the importation, (whether before, at the time of or after the release) any accounting,, reporting or information requirements imposed under the Customs Act or the Customs Tariff Act or any requirements under either of those Acts to remit any amount is in a province if the goods are situated in that province at the time of their release.

It is proposed that this rule continue to apply in respect of commercial goods. However, in the case of non-commercial goods, generally if the provincial component of HST for a participating province is imposed in respect of the importation of the goods, the supply of the customs brokerage service will be regarded as made in that participating province.

The above rules will not apply to the supply of any service provided in relation to an objection, appeal, re-determination, re-appraisal, review, refund, abatement, remission or drawback, or in relation to a request for any of the foregoing. These types of services will continue to be subject to the place of supply rules for services described in other parts of this document.

The changes to the Excise Tax Act or the Regulations still have to be made public and must undergo the applicable legislative steps to become law.

The CRA clarifies the place of supply rules in GST/HST Technical Information Bulletin B-103 "Harmonized Sales Tax: Place of suppy rules for determining whether a supply is made in a province" as follows:

Rule #1: If the importation is commercial goods (for which HST is not collected), the place of supply of the customs brokerage and related services is in the province in which the goods are released. Therefore, if the goods are released at Toronto Pearson Airport, the Ontario HST would apply. If the goods are released at the Vancouver Port, then British Columbia HST will apply.

However, if goods are placed in a bonded warehouse in Montreal, HST would not be applicable to the brokerage charges.

Rule #2: If the customs brokerage services relate to an objection, appeal, re-determination, re-appraisal, review, refund, abatement, remission or drawback, or in relation to a request for any of the foregoing (called herein "post-importation customs brokerage services"), Rule #1 does not apply. The general place of supply rules for services would be applicable.

The 5 main place of supply rules for services are applied in the following order:

(a) If the recipient's address or the address most closely connected with the supply in in the HST Zone, the applicable HST rate would be applied to the post-importation customs brokerage services;

(b) If the recipient does not have a Canadian address, the post-importation customs brokerage services will be considered to be supplied in the province in which the greatest proportion of the services is performed. For example, if the customs broker is located in Ontario and a customs broker in Ontario completes the B2 adjustments/appeals, then Ontario HST would apply.

(c) If 2 applies and the post-importation customs brokerage services are performed equally in two or more particular HST provinces, the HST province with the highest HST rate would be considered to be the place of supply.

(d) If 3 applies but a single HST province cannot be identified (same 13% rate in more than one province), the post-importation customs brokerage services will be subject to 13% HST.

(e) If the recipient does not have a Canadian address and the customs brokerage service is not performed primarily in an HST province or the HST Zone, then HST would not apply to the post-importation customs brokerage services.

Rule #3: If the importation relates to non-commercial goods, whether HST applies to the customs brokerage service will depend on whether the goods are subject to HST under the place of supply rules for goods. 

HST Place of Supply Rules for Goods: Suppliers Outside HST Zone Also Affected

On February 25, 2010, Canada's Department of Finance released its proposed harmonized sales tax (HST) place of supply rules which will be used to determine whether a supplier must charge, collect and remit HST in connection with a supply made in Canada and whether a recipient must pay HST in connection with an acquisition or importation and at what rate. Simply put, the proposed HST place of supply rules will be used to determine in which province a supply is considered to have occurred for HST purposes.

The proposed HST place of supply rules for tangible personal property (goods) may surprise sellers of goods located in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Prince Edward Island. Based on the Canada Revenue Agency's (CRA) views, some suppliers located in non-HST provinces may be required to charge, collect and remit HST. All suppliers of goods in Canada may need to consider whether they want to continue to ship goods to recipients in the HST Zone (and in particular Ontario and British Columbia). Some sellers of goods need to start working quickly to update their computer systems and accounting systems to account for HST on supplies of goods.

The proposed HST Place of Supply Rules to be in effect after July 1, 2010 are:

Rule #1: A supply of goods by way of sale is deemed to be made in a province if the supplier (Seller) of the goods delivers the goods or makes the goods available to the recipient (Buyer) in the province. For example, if an individual goes into a store in Ontario and purchases goods (e.g., a television), the store would charge HST at the rate of 13% (5% GST and 8% Ontario HST). The key fact is the place of delivery.

CRA Example: A supplier in Ontario agrees to sell to a purchaser in British Columbia. Based on the terms of delivery in the agreement for the supply of goods, legal delivery of the goods to the purchaser occurs in British Columbia.

CRA Position: The CRA takes the position that because legal delivery of the goods to the purchaser occurs in British Columbia, the supply of the goods is made in British Columbia and the supply will be subject to HST a rate of 12%.

CRA Example: A retailer in Ontario sells goods to a purchaser that is a resident of British Columbia and is visiting Ontario. The purchaser picks up the goods at the retailer's premises in Ontario and then transports the goods to British Columbia.

CRA Position: The goods are delivered to the purchaser in Ontario. The supply of goods is therefore made in Ontario and is proposed to be subject to HST at a rate of 13%.

Rule #2: A supply of goods by way of sale is deemed to be made inside the HST Zone (British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador) if the legal delivery of the goods is made in that province. For the purposes of this rule, goods are deemed to be delivered in the HST Zone, and not outside the HST Zone, if the supplier either:

  • (a) ships the property to a destination in the HST Zone that is specified in the contract for shipment of the goods;
  • (b) transfers possession of the goods to a common carrier or consignee that the supplier has retained on behalf of the recipient (Buyer) to ship the goods to a destination in the HST Zone; or
  • (c) sends the goods by mail or courier to an address in the HST Zone.

Pursuant to this rule, Incoterms, such as F.O.B. (freight or board) or C.I.F. (cost, insurance freight) are important if the location stated is within the HST Zone.

CRA Example: A supplier in Alberta agrees to sell goods to a purchaser in Ontario. Based on the terms in the agreement for the supply of the goods, legal delivery of the goods to the purchaser occurs in Alberta. However, the supplier agrees to have the goods shipped to the purchaser in Ontario.

CRA Position: Although legal delivery of the goods to the purchaser occurs in Alberta, delivery of the goods to the purchaser is deemed to occur in Ontario because the supplier ships the goods to Ontario. The supply of goods is therefore made in Ontario and is proposed to be subject to HST at a rate of 13%.

CRA Example: A mail-order company located in Nova Scotia sells greeting cards to customers across Canada. The company places the packages of greeting cards in the mail for delivery to customers in Ontario and British Columbia.

CRA Position: The supply of greeting cards mailed to Ontario is made in Ontario and is proposed to be subject to HST at a rate of 13%. The supply of greeting cards mailed to British Columbia is made in British Columbia and is proposed to be subject to HST at a rate of 12%.

Rule #3: Where a recipient of a supply of goods by way of lease, license or similar arrangement (Lessee) subsequently exercises an option to purchase the goods, the recipient lessee is deemed to take delivery by way of sale at the time and place at which the recipient lessee ceased to have possession of the property as a lessee and begins to have possession of the property as a purchaser. The key fact is the location of the goods at the time the option to purchase is exercised.

For example, if a person in Ontario leases a piece of manufacturing equipment from a lessor in Quebec and exercises an option to purchase the equipment at a late date when the equipment is in Ontario, HST will be applicable at a rate of 13% in respect of the option price.

The rate of HST will depend on which HST Zone province is the destination.

Rule #4: Where a supply of goods is made by way of lease, license or similar arrangement (other than a specified motor vehicle) (e.g. an equipment lease) for consideration that is attributed to a period (referred to as a "lease interval") and the lease, license or similar arrangement exceeds three months, the supply is deemed to be made in the HST Zone if the ordinary location of the property is within the HST Zone.

For the purposes of the place of supply rules, the ordinary location of the property is deemed to be the location where the supplier and the recipient mutually agree. This is a concession because the supplier may not be in the best position to know where the recipient has the goods. The CRA states that, "In other words, the mutual agreement of the supplier and the recipient will be determinative even where the property is actually located in a different place at the relevant time than what had been agreed upon."

The CRA will look to the contract and any subsequent amendments to agreements to determine the location of the leased goods.

A separate supply of the goods is deemed to be made for each lease interval of the earliest of the first day of the lease interval, the day on which the lease payment attributable to the lease interval becomes due and the day the payment is made.

Rule #5: Where a supply of goods is made by way of lease, license or similar arrangement (other than a specified motor vehicle) (e.g. an equipment lease) and the lease, license or similar arrangement does not exceed three months, the supply is deemed to be made in province in which the supplier delivers the goods or makes the goods available to the recipient. For the purposes of this rule, goods are deemed to be delivered in the HST Zone, and not outside the HST Zone, if the supplier either:

  • (a) ships the property to a destination in the HST Zone that is specified in the contract for shipment of the goods;
  • (b) transfers possession of the goods to a common carrier or consignee that the supplier has retained on behalf of the recipient (Buyer) to ship the goods to a destination in the HST Zone; or
  • (c) sends the goods by mail or courier to an address in the HST Zone.