Assistance available for low income tax filers

Shara JJ Cooper
By Shara JJ Cooper
April 8th, 2013

People that are taxed by tax season can get assistance from community members through the group People Helping People.

The pool of local volunteers help low income Boundary residents as a part of Revenue Canada’s  Community Volunteer Income Tax Program – for free.

The program is in its second year and co-ordinator Lorraine Dick says it is gaining in popularity.

“Last year we did 30 returns,” she said. “We are hoping to do 60 this year.”

Dick strongly encourages people to come forward and get assistance, especially if it means they won’t file without help.

“Those that do not otherwise file returns miss out on government benefits,” she said.

These benefits could include quarterly goods and services tax cheques and refunds for low income individuals. The benefits vary depending on each client’s specific circumstances.

Volunteers with the program help individuals and families that meet a certain financial criteria. Individuals that make under $30,000 and couples that make less than $40,000 can get help filing taxes – although there is some wiggle room. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) website states that the community organizations have flexibility to set their own criteria based on the needs of the community.

Dick has helped people catch up on their taxes and can file returns from as far back as 2007, which can help people catch up on benefits they might have missed.

This year, Canadians that previously filed using Telefile (filing by telephone) may be at a loss for how to send in their tax returns. The CRA announced in June 2012 that they would stop providing this service due to a lack of interest. Only about 1.2 percent of the population used Telefile to submit their tax returns, according to a CRA press release.

Dick said some of her current client’s have used Telefile in the past and now need help using filing online. 

Those that are overwhelmed by filing tax returns will find the process to be simplified.

“We don’t really ask for anything as long as they can fill out the form,” said Dick, referring to the individual’s basic information. Client’s go through an informal verification to confirm their personal identity.

Tax filers should bring their tax documents, like their T4 slip, and any other related documentation. They fill out the form, drop off the papers and pick them up after the taxes have been filed. The taxes are filed online, which expedites the process.

Volunteers go through a training process before they start working. They use a computer program to help them file taxes and are careful to respect everyone’s privacy.

“We don’t save any documents. We return all the paperwork and delete all the files,” said Dick, noting that the volunteers are attentive when it comes to keeping client’s confidentiality.

This year there are seven people volunteering but Dick says they need at least 10 people to work more efficiently. She’d also like to see more regional help.

“We really need volunteers in Rock Creek, Midway and Greenwood,” she said. “It’s hard for people to come. They have to come twice. Once to drop off their documents and then they have to come back to pick up their papers.”

Dick encourages anyone interested in helping to come forward in January of 2014. That will give them time to complete their training before tax season gets underway. She’d also like to see a larger community group take part in the process.

Volunteers will find the work rewarding, says Dick, adding that a client came back this year as a volunteer.

“The people are so grateful,” she said. “’Thank you, thank you, thank you’ they say. We are seeing the same people come back this year (as last year).”

Weekly sessions are held at 174 Market Avenue (across from CIBC) in Grand Forks every Wednesday between 1 and 3 p.m. Another session is held Tuesdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Selkirk College. The service is available until the end of April. 

Categories: General