CRA says it had 'two to three times' as many people calling with tax queries in 2021 tax season
OTTAWA -- The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) says it has received a significantly higher volume of calls from taxpayers this tax season compared to a year ago and, as a result, wait times to access services have also increased.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, the CRA said it often received “two to three times as many calls” this year as it did in February, March, and April 2020, which meant “taxpayers seeking to reach us by phone have noticed we have been experiencing much longer call wait times.”
The agency said the COVID-19 pandemic presented additional challenges for their call centres, with nearly all agents working from home, but the department took pre-emptive steps to reduce wait times.
“We extended our call centre hours of service, introduced a new automated callback option for some services, and aggressively hired more call agents. Between October 2020 and March 2021, approximately 2,000 new call agents were hired nearly doubling our compliment of staff from the previous year,” reads the statement.
The most common reason Canadians reached out to the call centre over the past year was to enquire about COVID-19 benefits available to individuals and businesses, assistance with accessing online services, and help with business registration.
Tax experts and politicians had been calling on the CRA to delay the 2021 tax filing deadline not only because of continued COVID lockdowns and confusion among some recipients of government support that they’d be required to pay taxes on their benefits, but also due to a cybersecurity breach that prompted the agency to lock access to approximately 800,000 online accounts.
Some weren’t notified that they had been locked out, and only found out when they tried to log in to file their taxes, leading to more calls to accountants and tax professionals.
According to documents tabled in the House of Commons responding to an order paper question posed by Conservative MP Dan Mazier, the volume of calls in the 2020 tax season averaged just over four million a month, while the wait time averaged just below 23 minutes.
While the popular Canada Emergency Response Benefit launched early April, most of the Liberals’ COVID-19 benefits came into effect in early May, including the wage subsidy, rent subsidy, sickness benefit, and caregiving benefit.
The federal government said they were prioritizing speed over scrutiny when dishing out the funds, but there was confusion early on among applicants who were eligible for employment insurance but also applied to the CERB, unintentionally double-dipping in federal supports.