I’m sure by now you’ve all seen the uproar on the internet about how CRA blocks your calls at least a third of the time. Now that my stint in public practice is over, I figured it would be a good time to share the tricks of the trade I’ve used to make dealing with the CRA manageable.
With only 36% of calls actually answered it’s no wonder Canadians are frustrated with the tax system. Not only is that big book (aka The Income Tax Act) extremely challenging to read, getting someone to answer your questions can seem like an even more daunting task!
The CRA’s policy is to only have people wait for a maximum of 2 minutes which means that of the more than 50 million calls (remember there are 36 million people in Canada) they receive, a fraction are answered. The rest are put through to a busy signal. Most people have to call back multiple times per week to get a response. And when someone can get through the information provided isn’t necessarily correct. With the CRA receiving a D on their report card from the CFIB when it comes to accuracy of information provided to taxpayers. Up to 30% of the time the tax information you receive from an agent can be incorrect, which is as concerning for taxpayers as it is for professionals.
Over my years as a tax specialist, I was able to hack my way into getting an agent on the phone, and cover my ass when it comes to receiving information that may or may not be correct.
There are two phone numbers you can call to reach a CRA agent depending on whether or not you are an individual or a corporation.
Business & Self Employed: 1-800-959-5525
If you’re able to communicate with the CRA through the online service account that is your best bet because you are able to upload all your correspondence with them and you should then receive all communication from them through that medium. This makes it easy because there is a trail of evidence for you to fall back on should anyone ever ask you about why you did something one way or another.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always an option and you’re stuck trying to connect with an agent on the phone. If that’s you and you’re feeling frustrated and hopeless try the following list of tips to get through and then protect yourself against incorrect information:
- Hit redial 10x in a row. If you get the busy signal hang up and hit redial. I’m not kidding when I say do it 10 times in a row. Most of my luck getting through has been using this tactic and I can honestly say that at least 90% of the time I’ve gotten through by simply hitting the redial button.
- Call the French line. You’re probably thinking “but I don’t speak French” and that’s totally fine. CRA agents need to be bilingual at the Federal level which means that when they answer in French you can simply say “oh I’m sorry I dialed the wrong number are you still able to help me”, trust me works like a charm.
- Write down their agent ID. Your CRA agent should give you their ID number, and if they don’t right off the bat you can request it. Write this number down, along with the date, time, and advice they give you. If you ever need to argue something in the future you have this filed away to save your butt.
- Request your call to be escalated. If the answer isn’t making sense or your agent doesn’t really know how to address it ask to be transferred to a specialist. Sometimes this won’t work, but it’s easier to do if you have a very specific issue to deal with. An example of this might be an international tax issue if you have business or income earned in another jurisdictions.
- Ask for your agent’s direct line. If you’re dealing with an ongoing issue and there is a lot of back and forth ask for the agents direct line. Usually, they will be willing to give it to you, especially if you’re being audited for a section of your tax return.
- Gain multiple perspectives. If you’re really uncertain of how your situation should be treated for tax purposes you have the option of calling back (using the tips above) to get another opinion. If you end up doing this 3 or more times you can use the most common response as a good way to hedge your bets.
- Check a technical interpretation. The CRA puts out technical interpretations of the Act that make it easier for Canadians to understand how they have interpreted what the heck The Act is saying. A quick google search will allow you to find these. Example: technical interpretation of employee vs contractor.
- Get it in writing. This is definitely the most challenging but you can get the CRA to write you an opinion on how something should be treated in their eyes. If it’s a risky enough tax position this might be your best bet. But be warned this can take years to do.
In the astronomical number of calls I’ve made to the CRA these have been the best ways to deal with them as an organization, and get some sort of a response. It can be frustrating for sure, but dotting your “i’s” and crossing your “t’s”will make your life that much easier if they ever come back to dispute something.