BY KAREN LOK YI WONG
Filing income tax is important for everyone in B.C. However, it can be challenging for some groups, including seniors.
Why is it important for seniors to file income tax?
Seniors generally have low income. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “a large share of single seniors has incomes very close to the poverty line: 44 per cent report an after-tax income between $15,000 and $25,000.”
By filing income tax, seniors are more likely to get the tax credits and benefits they are entitled to, such as Goods and Services Tax (GST) credits and the Guaranteed Income Supplement. If they do not file income tax, these tax credits and benefits will be cut.
To many seniors, these tax credits and benefits are survival income. Seniors rely on their limited income to pay for daily necessities, such as rent and food, to survive. These basic necessities are important for seniors to maintain their physical, mental and socio-emotional health.
What are the challenges for seniors to file income tax?
According to my own experience working with seniors, many do not know how to file income tax. The Canada Revenue Agency encourages income tax filing by computer. However, many seniors have limited or no knowledge of the computer.
While income tax can also be filed by paper, many find the form booklet complicated or cannot fill it in because of different reasons. For example, they have poor vision and can’t read the form, or their hands shake when writing so they can’t fill in the form. They may turn to family and friends for help, but many do not have this option for support. They may consider paying for an income tax filing service, but many find the service is too expensive.
What is the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program
Seniors and other people who have a modest income and a simple tax situation can consider filing their income tax with the help of the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP), which is supported by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
Through this program, community organizations across Canada help you fill out and file income tax for free. Some organizations provide the service year-round, but most only during the income tax filing seasons in March and April. The service is provided by volunteers who are either trained or have related education already, like accountants.
What are the challenges for seniors to access the CVITP?
It can still be challenging for some seniors to access the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program. First, in many community organizations, there are more clients than volunteers can serve. The resulting long waits can challenge some seniors, who may feel fatigued. It’s a good idea to provide tea, coffee, water and cookies to seniors while waiting.
Second, because many seniors can’t travel to the income tax clinics, community organizations often provide outreach services. However, not many organizations have the volunteer resources to provide such outreach.
Third, many immigrant seniors do not speak Canada’s official languages, English and French. Community organizations may have volunteers who can provide interpretation services but not many have the language resources. Community organizations and the Canada Revenue Agency should continue to consider ways to improve the program.
To find a Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, visit the CRA website http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/ndvdls/vlntr/clncs/vancouver-bc-eng.html.
Karen Lok Yi Wong is a social worker in B.C. working with seniors. She was the program coordinator at 411 Seniors Centre Society http://411seniors.bc.ca and lead the centre’s Community Volunteer Income Tax Program in 2017. That year, the program served more than 1,700 clients.
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