Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue No. 36 - Evidence - February 8, 2018
OTTAWA, Thursday, February 8, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 10:30 a.m., in public and in camera, to examine and report on issues pertaining to social affairs, science and technology in general and in order to consider a draft report.
Senator Art Eggleton (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
I am Senator Art Eggleton from Toronto. I’m the chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, and I would like my colleagues to introduce themselves.
Senator Petitclerc: Good morning, and welcome. Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec.
Senator Omidvar: Ratna Omidvar, Ontario.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson, Ontario.
Senator Neufeld: Richard Neufeld, British Columbia.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman, deputy chair of the committee.
The Chair: Today is the third day of sessions with respect to the Registered Disability Savings Plan and Disability Tax Credit.
I’m very pleased to welcome The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue. She’s here with the Deputy Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency, Ms. Nancy Chahwan.
Later on we will have representatives of other departments, Employment and Social Development Canada, plus another representative of Canada Revenue Agency and the Department of Finance.
This portion of our session will last three quarters of an hour, taking us up to 11:15. I would invite the minister to make her opening comments.
Hon. Diane Lebouthillier, P.C., M.P., Minister of National Revenue: Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen, honourable senators, good morning. Thank you for the invitation to come and speak to you today about the Disability Tax Credit.
Your study of this tax program — intended for our society’s most vulnerable members — is important. I want to thank you for your interest in it. With me this morning is Nancy Chahwan, Deputy Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency. You will also have the opportunity to hear from Frank Vermaeten, the Assistant Commissioner of the Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch, who will be appearing in the second hour.
My mandate as Minister of National Revenue includes improving the agency’s services to Canadians. I do feel that Canadians should be treated as valued clients and not just taxpayers. As you know, the Canada Revenue Agency is responsible for applying and interpreting tax legislation for the Government of Canada — legislation that we must uphold not only out of respect for the institution that you represent, but also in the interest of justice, fairness and transparency for all Canadians. That said, the complexity of the Income Tax Act must not stop us from being compassionate and open when interpreting its provisions. This compassion and openness are all the more important when administering tax programs for our society’s most vulnerable members, especially persons with disabilities or those living with physical or mental health issues. These people and their caregivers deserve our help and to have the best services available to them. We have a duty to ensure that all Canadians, including persons with disabilities and their families, receive the credits and benefits to which they are entitled.
I assure you this morning that the agency has made this commitment to the most vulnerable populations a priority. The government has a number of programs and services for persons with disabilities, including the child disability benefit and deductions such as attendant care and medical expenses. But today, at your request, I will focus on the Disability Tax Credit. Every year the agency receives an average of 250,000 applications for the Disability Tax Credit, over 80 per cent of which are approved.
In 2016-17, Canadians claimed a total of 1.3 billion dollars using the Disability Tax Credit, an increase of 100 million dollars from the previous year. In that same year, 770,000 people applied for the Disability Tax Credit on their tax returns. Given the importance of this credit for those who are entitled to it, we have implemented many initiatives to make fiscal measures for persons with disabilities more accessible. For example, working with the Department of Finance, we amended the Income Tax Act to include nurses and nurse practitioners in the list of professionals authorized to attest that a person is eligible for the Disability Tax Credit. The agency has also made efforts to simplify the form. Actually, I have brought you all copies of this form. When reviewing it, you will notice that applicants only need to fill out the first page; healthcare professionals fill out the rest.
Although I am proud of the changes that we have introduced, I am well aware that there is still a great deal of work to be done. I know you have already heard from certain organizations that have outlined the great challenges faced by the individuals they represent. These same groups are also communicating with my office, and we are working with them to ensure that we fully understand their concerns. It is in this spirit of collaboration that I announced the re-establishment of the Disability Advisory Committee on November 23. This committee was dissolved in 2006, but in my opinion, it is absolutely necessary to better understand the sector’s concerns and issues. One of this committee’s main goals is to re-establish a constructive mandate among all parties. Its mandate is to recommend actions to the agency to keep Canadians better informed of, and improve the administration of, the credits and benefits we provide to persons with disabilities. I expect that the committee will share with us recommendations to improve the quality of services we provide to persons with disabilities, but I also hope that it will propose legislative changes. Rest assured that although I have no control over the changes introduced to the Income Tax Act, I will be happy to share these proposals with my colleague, the Minister of Finance.
Awareness and consultation are essential to accomplish our mission, which is, quite simply put, to provide eligible individuals with the benefits to which they are entitled. I want to be clear about one more thing: We do not have a quota or a target to reach in terms of accepting and refusing applications for the Disability Tax Credit. No matter the case, it is never about saving money at the cost of our country’s most vulnerable people. This is an important issue to me. Throughout my career, as a social worker and as Minister of National Revenue, I have been fully committed to helping the most vulnerable people in our society. And that is what I continue to do as a minister.
Thank you again for inviting me to speak to you today. I will be pleased to answer your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much, minister, for your opening comments and your invitation for this committee to make recommendations to you that could bring about changes and improvements and your commitment to the vulnerable people, as you say, that are involved in this issue.
I also want to thank you for the letter you gave us yesterday in response to my letter. It provides some statistical and definitional information about qualifications for the program, and my colleagues have it in front of them this morning.
The deputy commissioner is going to speak at this point as well. Please go ahead.
Nancy Chahwan, Deputy Commissioner, Canada Revenue Agency: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and honourable senators.
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak to this committee about the agency’s administration of the Disability Tax Credit, or DTC.
First, allow me to echo the minister’s comments and her commitment in assisting vulnerable Canadians. She has the full support of the agency.
We know that the DTC is a very important credit for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and we will continue to ensure it is administered fairly and transparently so that those who depend on it receive it.
The agency administers the DTC and assesses the eligibility of applications on a case-by-case basis, according to specific criteria outlined in the Income Tax Act.
The agency has made a number of changes to the administration of the DTC over the years that were designed to make it easier for Canadians to apply for and receive the credit. The results of those changes are evident: The number of people who have successfully claimed the credit over the last two years is at an all-time high.
The act makes it clear that it is not an individual’s diagnosis that determines their eligibility, but the effects of their prolonged physical or mental impairment on performing the basic activities of daily living. To help demonstrate this on a DTC application, an applicant’s medical practitioner must attest that the life-sustaining therapy required to manage their disability requires 14 hours or more per week.
To ensure that each application is being assessed fairly, the agency sends a clarification letter to medical practitioners when more information is needed to demonstrate an individual’s eligibility for the credit.
The agency made an administrative adjustment to this letter in May 2017. To be clear, this was the only element of our treatment of DTC applications that was modified. When organizations representing people with disabilities expressed concerns about how this change was affecting how applications were processed, Minister Lebouthillier requested that the agency immediately review its approach.
The agency has a long history of working with stakeholders to improve its administration of the DTC. For example, the Canadian Medical Association has been an important partner over the years in making the Disability Tax Credit certificate easier to understand and to complete.
However, we do acknowledge that before moving to the new clarification letter, a wider range of stakeholder consultations would have allowed important feedback to be incorporated in the letter. In this regard, we look forward to working with the Disability Advisory Committee, and we welcome their insights and considerations on our administration of this tax credit.
On December 8, the minister announced that, going forward, should clarification of applications be required, the CRA would use the original clarification letter. Additionally, she promised that every application that had been denied as a result of reliance on the revised clarification letter, since May 2017, would be reviewed. The review has been a high priority for us at the agency, and we will provide a summary of results once completed.
The minister also has the full support of the agency in working with the reinstated Disability Advisory Committee. This forum will provide us with important feedback to improve how we administer measures to support Canadians with disabilities. To reiterate, we look forward to receiving their advice and recommendations.
Mr. Chair, we understand that Canadians expect more transparency concerning the agency’s administration of tax benefits and credits.
Following the first meeting of the Disability Advisory Committee, we released detailed statistics about the DTC on Canada.ca, and we intend to do so annually. As you mentioned, you have received a response to your request for additional information.
Furthermore, the agency recently established the position of chief data officer, who will provide leadership and oversight as we take steps to enhance our approach to data management.
Rest assured, Mr. Chair and honourable senators, the CRA remains strongly committed to improving its services to deliver the credits and benefits that support persons with disabilities.
We thank you for undertaking this study, and we are pleased to answer your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I will now go to questions from the members of the committee, starting with the two deputy chairs.
Senator Petitclerc: Thank you very much for being here, for your presentations and for the information you have provided. We have had many discussions and heard from many witnesses. We have heard some fairly troubling things. I am pleased to hear you say — because we have heard it, too — that people are concerned about quotas and objectives. We are happy to hear you say that this is not the case. I hesitate to ask a very broad question. Obviously, something happened. What happened? Where are the loopholes so that so many requests have been refused in a fairly targeted period of time? I’m going to ask you another question, because we still need to identify the issues. What kind of training or tools do people have to accept or reject applications? Basically, do they have the tools they need? Do they have the necessary qualifications to accept or reject these requests?
Ms. Lebouthillier: Thank you for your question. I want to reiterate that the Canada Revenue Agency, CRA, has absolutely no quota related to approving Disability Tax Credit requests. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, for the 2016-17 fiscal year, we had an increase in the number of people who received the Disability Tax Credit and in the amounts allocated to people with disabilities. At the CRA, we again assigned the review of disability tax credit applications to nurses, some of whom had been transferred elsewhere in the agency. Medical personnel are best qualified to review applications and assist public servants in this regard. I would ask the commissioner to provide clarification about training.
Ms. Chahwan: Thank you, Madam Minister. Thank you, Madam Senator, for your question. I completely understand your concerns about this. I have some answers that will provide some assurance about our administrative process. We have teams that are specialized in reviewing credit requests. These teams are concentrated in three tax centres nationwide. They are accompanied by senior staff with extensive experience. As the minister just mentioned, we have direct access — nurses, in other words. We have seven across the country, and we will add more shortly. The training these agents must follow is one of the most rigorous training programs at the CRA. When agents begin to process applications like this, their files are reviewed by someone more experienced 100 per cent of the time. As their performance improves, this percentage decreases. So, we can count on a lot of support and expertise. However, I would like to point out that we do not substitute the doctor’s judgment when the doctor completes the certificate and indicates the impact of disability on the patient’s life and daily activities.
The Chair: Some of our witnesses have said that they are concerned that some of the applications are being turned down in spite of recommendations from medical care specialists. They are wondering if the Canada Revenue Agency is really the right agency to be making judgments about medical issues.
We associate Canada Revenue Agency with going to get as much tax as they can. We certainly hope they’re going down to get those people of the Paradise and Panama Papers. Nevertheless, it doesn’t strike people as a logical connection and that maybe there should be another entity, like Employment and Social Development Canada, that should oversee the social aspects of this. Sure, there has to be a final approval by CRA — it’s the agency that does the taxes — but are those the right people to be doing it? You talked a bit about training, but tell us more. I don’t think, from a lot of the witnesses here, that there is a lot of confidence that that’s the right agency to be making those judgments.
Ms. Lebouthillier: With respect to the Disability Tax Credit, I am looking for solutions. I would like to look at the program as a whole. That is why we created the committee to review it again. This may be part of its recommendations. However, I gave it carte blanche to submit solutions to boost the Disability Tax Credit program.
Ms. Chahwan: Mr. Chair, when I was appointed deputy commissioner at CRA, my 17-year-old son looked at me as if I became suddenly a different person. I’m now the tax man. I have to say I’m the same person I was before I joined CRA, and the CRA is full of 40,000 people who work with their heart and understand that this is very important.
The minister has a priority in her mandate to make sure that every Canadian has access to the benefits they are entitled to. Every one of our 40,000 employees has heard this message. We provide training not just on the technicalities of applying and administering the law but also on how to serve the taxpayer.
We do not substitute our judgment for that of the medical practitioners. What we do is make sure that the eligibility criteria of the act are applied correctly and in fairness to all Canadians.
Senator Seidman: Thank you, minister, for being with us today.
Minister, the committee requested statistics regarding the age and gender of DTC applications, and you’ve told us that the CRA, and I quote, “does not compile the information in this manner.” Does that mean that the CRA does not conduct gender-based analysis on the DTC?
Ms. Lebouthillier: When I saw the numbers, I asked the CRA for an explanation of the data collection because I didn’t have an answer to certain questions. The CRA told me that it collected data to administer its programs according to the requirements of the act. I asked CRA to work on data collection.
Senator Seidman: First of all, the data is easily accessible through social insurance numbers, as we’ve heard from a witness who was here, but I would like to say that the CRA’s own 2016-17 departmental results report states, and I quote:
The CRA has been engaged in the Government of Canada’s commitment to gender equality through the Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) tool.
It assesses the effects of government initiatives on these groups through the lens of gender and other identity factors such as age, income, language, and geography. We support the Government of Canada’s commitment by using this approach . . . .
We developed and implemented our own action plan to improve the application of GBA+ in assessing our programs, policies, and services.
Yet the answer in your letter says that the CRA does not currently compile the information in this manner.
I would suggest that the committee request that the CRA conduct such an analysis as soon as possible and report it back to the committee in the next few weeks. This is one of the most important programs you administer, and I find it hard to understand how you wouldn’t have data related to age and gender. We hear there’s a lot of women and poor women involved in this situation, so I would appreciate that.
Ms. Lebouthillier: I would ask the deputy commissioner to answer because it is more of an administrative matter.
Ms. Chahwan: We do conduct a gender-based analysis on every legislative proposal, working with the Department of Finance who is responsible for the act and its amendments. When a new measure is introduced, a very fulsome GBA analysis is conducted.
In this case, what the minister mentioned is that we do not slice and dice our statistics on the DTC based on those criteria because we do not take into account gender when it comes to determining eligibility of a patient for the credit.
Senator Seidman: I still don’t understand because it seems to me you need facts in order to understand how your program is working and whether it’s working well. This would be one of the facts you need, so I don’t understand why you don’t have the data.
My next question, minister, is about Bill C-462, the Disability Tax Credit Promoters Restrictions Act. We’re talking about an incredibly vulnerable community that is being preyed on by so-called promoters who are taking up to 30 per cent of their benefits. Your department has had four years to draft regulations to set the maximum fees under this legislation, which I might add was supported unanimously by Parliament. How is it possible that after four years you’re still not ready? What is left for the CRA to do in order to protect these people who are being preyed on?
Ms. Lebouthillier: Madam Senator, I fully agree with what you are saying. Two years ago, we found that the promoters would recover up to 30 per cent for reimbursement of the amount billed to the most vulnerable people with disabilities.
I mentioned earlier that I was a social worker. I think it is essential that most of the money goes to those who need it the most, not the promoters. In accordance with the act, we have made sure to prescribe a maximum amount that is in the process of being settled. In fact, I hope to see the publication of the regulations very soon in the Gazette officielle du Québec. I can’t tell you the date just now, but I am working with my colleague from the Treasury Board.
Senator Seidman: Would it be possible to provide the information to the committee in writing within a couple of weeks so we know what the timeline is? We’ve seen 2015, 2016, 2017, and the CRA keeps saying the same things, “We’re working on the regulations,” and they still haven’t come out. I would appreciate them.
The Chair: We’ll leave that as a request. We’ll go on to Senator Munson, who was the proposer of this study.
Senator Munson: Thanks very much for being here. I still find this very upsetting. Your officials and others have heard the heartbreaking testimony that we had before us and still haven’t figured out what happened inside the bureaucracy and ministry with all these rejections. I can’t quite figure that out.
You talked about the establishment of the Disability Advisory Committee, but those in the autism community in this country, representing tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Canadians, have been excluded. In your chart, you have mental health or mental functions here. Autism is a neurological developmental disorder. We’re not talking about mental health, although sometimes there are dual diagnoses. The autism community asked to be part of this Disability Advisory Committee and have been excluded, yet they are put under an area of mental health. This, minister, is tragic to me in terms of excluding the autism community. Everyone knows what’s taking place and what’s not taking place and why there should be a national strategy.
Would you reconsider having the autism community separately be part of this committee that was dissolved in 2006 to present factual evidence of what is taking place? It’s so important for them. They have been rejected by the hundreds, I understand.
The whole idea of somebody saying the requirement of 14 hours a week, who decides the hours? Is it 12 hours, 9 hours, 15 hours? Who made that decision? It should be flexible. It’s an ongoing thing in the lives of people. I ask you to consider those two questions seriously, please.
Ms. Lebouthillier: Thank you for your questions. As was mentioned earlier, neither the Disability Tax Credit eligibility criteria nor the act have changed. They are exactly the same.
I would also like to say that the number of requests approved is increasing. I also stated in my opening remarks that the amounts allocated are also increasing. With regard to the disability advisory committee, we have professionals around the table right now, and there will be a rotation. We have met with Autism Canada, and we told them that we will gladly welcome people how are working in autism when there is a place available in the rotation of people around the committee table.
As Minister of National Revenue, my goal is to be fair to all people with disabilities and not to prioritize one disability over another. All people with disabilities must be able to receive the services, benefits and credits they are entitled to.
Senator Munson: Minister, I appreciate your answer, but I don’t think you’ve answered the question. You’ve said nothing has changed. In the autism community and other communities, diabetes, MS, you name it, there are people who have been receiving the Disability Tax Credit and been part of the registered plan, and yet they’ve now been turned down. It’s been turned back in a number of cases.
You stated, “when a position is free on the Disability Advisory Committee.” Why not today? What has to become free? Does somebody have to get off the committee? There are 12 on it. My goodness, this is 2018 and we’re dealing with a crisis within the autism community. Something has happened. Something has taken place. I wish you would be a bit more candid with us.
Ms. Lebouthillier: As I mentioned, neither the eligibility criteria nor the legislation has changed. We went looking for people to sit on the Disability Advisory Committee, including Dr. Karen R. Cohen, who was part of the previous committee that was disbanded in 2006. She has a great deal of expertise with people with disabilities and defends their interests. There are also Indigenous people on the committee.
I didn’t want to have a committee with 40 people around the table. Every group of people with disabilities deserves to be heard. The advisory committee had carte blanche and will also be able to meet with the various groups to support the recommendations made to the government.
Ms. Chahwan: May I offer an answer to the senator’s question? I can’t speak to an increase of rejections of people suffering from autism because we do not compile our data in that way.
Senator Munson: But you should.
Ms. Chahwan: As I mentioned, CRA is responsible to administer the law and enforce the law as it is written. As it is written, the law provides us with eligibility criteria based on the impact of impairments on the basic activities of daily living.
Thank you for referencing the table we provided you, senator. The spike we have seen in the rejection of applications in 2016-17 relates to mental functions. We are currently investigating why the spike is there.
Just to clarify the minister’s comments, the minister is saying that the DAC, the Disability Advisory Committee, will be canvassing other advocacy groups and associations who don’t have a permanent seat at the table. They will canvass other stakeholders and listening to their needs to make sure that they have a comprehensive understanding of the disabled communities. The DAC will also look at data, including gender analysis.
Senator Mégie: All the groups we met with told us that it takes a long time to find a doctor who will complete the form. I found it curious, but it is their comment, and I wanted to share it with you.
I’m glad you asked for the help of the nurse clinicians. I am pleased to see this progress. It may remove this irritant by improving access to the various professionals who are able to complete this questionnaire.
The other issue that has been outstanding and has been asked many times is the 14-hour period that was chosen as the turning point for eligibility. Is it based on accurate data on the number of hours it takes to deal with people or other data? Is it immutable or can it be changed?
Ms. Chahwan: Thank you for your question. The 14-hour criterion is currently specified in the act. The act is reviewed regularly to see if any adjustment needs to be made in recognition of medical advances and other criteria. It was last amended in 2005, if I am not mistaken, and the 14-hour criterion has not changed. The consultation done by the committee set up by the minister and the commissioner will allow us to be aware of and especially to take stock of whether it is time for the government to review certain criteria, but I cannot presume the outcome of these conversations.
The Chair: In your appendix B in the minister’s letter, your statistics indicate the basic activities of daily living: vision, walking, speaking and mental function. Some of our witnesses have said, “What about work? What about housekeeping? What about being able to go out and shop?” Given that there are people with different kinds of disabilities — mental and neurological disabilities — that can be impacting on these things as well. Why aren’t they part of it?
Also, the multiple sclerosis group talked about episodic situations. A lot of these people apply for the Disability Tax Credit, but there are the severe and long-term provisions, the 12-month provision you put in this basic activity of daily living, which doesn’t provide for people coming on and going off. Yet you take them off, and that affects the RDSP end of things, too, and their ability to contribute to that. Why is there not a little more flexibility here to consider these other factors?
Ms. Lebouthillier: The legislation is very specific about eligibility for the registered disability savings plan. Minister Duclos is responsible for the management of this program. I believe you will meet with him, and I would invite you to ask that department’s officials for more details.
With regard to people with degenerative diseases who are experiencing a series of ups and downs, I asked the advisory committee to study the issue and to make recommendations regarding changes to be made in this regard. Is the tax credit the best way to help them? The advisory committee will analyze this.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you, Madam Minister and Madam Deputy Commissioner. It’s wonderful to have you here. I would like to get your response to a systems design idea that was presented to us yesterday that has tweaked my curiosity. It goes to the heart of the qualifying regime for access to credits.
We have the federal system that assesses eligibility for the Disability Tax Credit, but we also have a myriad of provincial systems that qualify, assess and approve applications for provincial disability supports and welfare systems. The proposal was that if a provincial government has assessed and approved or rejected applications, that should be the gateway to federal credits, as opposed to parallel systems putting the applicant through two different processes, simplifying the process and simply accepting the provincial assessment as the portal to your system. Do you have a response to that idea?
Ms. Lebouthillier: I will ask Ms. Chahwan to respond from an administrative perspective.
Ms. Chahwan: This is a very important question, senator. I don’t know if I will have a complete answer for you. It’s not my place to judge how we will work with other levels of government given that we administer the law, but I can take the question back to our colleagues at Finance. What I can say, however, is it is my understanding that the Province of Quebec has a different form than ours, but there is harmonization between the study of the applications with the other provinces and the federal government. I say that with some reservation. I would need to check into that. I would be happy to get back to you on this.
Senator Omidvar: That would be very helpful. Thank you. Perhaps you could also check whether there’s a precedent for access to benefits that are generated through provincial approval. That would help us. If the precedent has been set, maybe the bar is not so high.
The Chair: That brings us to the end of our time allocation for this panel. I very much appreciate you being here, minister and deputy commissioner, for your responses as well. We’ve had a good dialogue about it. We will be getting a report to you on our recommendations resulting from all of our hearings. Thank you very much.
On our second panel on the subject of the Disability Tax Credit and Registered Disability Savings Plan, we have an official from the Canada Revenue Agency. Who do we have here from Canada Revenue Agency? Frank Vermaeten. Yes, of course. From Employment and Social Development Canada, we have Krista Wilcox, Director General, Office for Disability Issues. From the Department of Finance, we have Pierre Leblanc, Director General, Personal Income Tax Division, Tax Policy Branch. Assisting him is Lesley Taylor, Director, Social Tax Policy. Thank you very much for being here.
Mr. Vermaeten, I understand you have some opening comments, and the rest of you are essentially here for questions? Okay. You’ll get those. Mr. Vermaeten will first get the opportunity to make an opening statement.
Frank Vermaeten, Assistant Commissioner and co-chair of the Disability Advisory Committee, Canada Revenue Agency: Good morning, honourable senators and chair.
Good morning. My name is Frank Vermaeten. I’m the Assistant Commissioner of the Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch at the Canada Revenue Agency. In this capacity, I am responsible for assessing taxes and delivering tax benefits and services to Canadians. I am also a co-chair of the Disability Advisory Committee. Thank you for inviting me to speak to this committee. I would like to provide you with more information about how we administer the Disability Tax Credit, or DTC.
First I want to emphasize that we recognize that the way in which the CRA administers tax credits and benefits can have a real and meaningful impact in Canadians’ day-to-day lives. We know that this credit is very significant for Canadians who are living with disability.
Our priority at the CRA is and always has been very clear: to ensure that people who qualify for the DTC get the DTC. This is part of our commitment to serving Canadians. Our goal is to balance this commitment with our obligations to adhere to the legislation as set out in the Income Tax Act, which applies equally to all Canadians.
The threshold to qualify for the DTC under the Income Tax Act is very high, and the criteria for DTC eligibility are very specific. I can assure you that the agency considers an individual’s eligibility for DTC using a very rigorous approach. Each application is assessed individually by dedicated teams of CRA employees who undergo significant training. The agency works closely with medical professionals and people affected by disabilities to determine how best to collect the information required to establish eligibility.
Let me offer some additional information for your consideration.
A point not often raised is that not everyone who applies for the DTC is eligible under the Income Tax Act. The agency has put in place a process for individuals whose applications have been denied to add additional information to their original application. There is also an appeals process within the agency.
It can happen that people who met the eligibility criteria at one point in time may no longer be eligible if they are able to perform the basic activities of daily living as set out in the Income Tax Act. This can happen when a person’s condition improves with medical intervention or thanks to advancements in medical technology.
With respect to the RDSP, this program is jointly administered by the CRA and the ESDC. The CRA’s role is to determine whether the RDSP qualifies for registration under the Income Tax Act. I will defer to my colleagues from the ESDC and the Department of Finance to answer any policy or program questions you may have about the RDSP.
Many questions have been raised about how the agency collects data related to the DTC. The deputy commissioner spoke about this earlier, and I would like to add that the information we collect is limited by the Privacy Act. We may only collect the information we require in order to administer the DTC. Since eligibility is based on the effects of the impairment and not on diagnosis, we do not capture or collect any data in relation to the types of diseases for privacy reasons.
We have acknowledged that we need to consult with stakeholders and Canadians. To this end, the Disability Advisory Committee has been reinstated with the agency’s full support. At the committee’s first meeting last month, members engaged in a productive discussion about the DTC legislation, current CRA administrative practices and the committee’s objectives going forward. As co-chair, I look forward to working closely with committee members as we consider ways to improve upon how the CRA administers tax measures for persons with disabilities.
I would be pleased to respond to your questions. Thank you.
The Chair: There are no other opening statements, so we will go right into questions.
Senator Seidman: Thank you for being here to help clarify some of these issues for us. I will address my questions to you, Mr. Vermaeten, if I may.
This committee did request up-to-date information from your department for the fiscal year 2017-18, but your letter dated February 7 says you will not provide it. I would like to understand how it’s possible that your department administers a program it has no way of tracking on an ongoing basis. Has the CRA never produced status reports on a semiannual basis?
Mr. Vermaeten: Certainly we do keep track of the information that we are able to keep, subject to the Privacy Act. We do track that information, and we want to make that information more public, more available and more transparent going forward. Certainly the release of the data we have provided you — and that was provided a bit earlier as part of the process for the Disability Advisory Committee — I think takes a big step towards increasing that transparency. There’s a commitment by the minister to do more of that, and we’re going to be engaging with the Disability Advisory Committee.
With respect to your specific question about point-in-time data, we’re very reluctant to release point-in-time data because it can be very misleading at times. The application, the process, is seasonal to some extent and depends, to some extent, on the processing rhythms and priorities and when the forms come in.
You can imagine a situation where you process in one year a certain number of applications early in the year for whatever reason. April and May, you’re processing a lot of applications, and the next year, for whatever reason, the flow of which they come in or in terms of the flow of the work, you process fewer applications in that April and May. So releasing that data can be really misleading and result in people jumping to conclusions that aren’t there.
Our preference is to be very cautious in examining that data and making sure it is very rigorous and robust. In that respect, we have also recently announced that we have a Chief Data Officer that we have assigned to this position who can look at the quality of that data. It really does need to be quality data, and we want that data to be such that people can interpret it and get good information rather than just noise.
Senator Seidman: I guess I don’t really understand your response. I’m not asking about point-in-time data. I’m asking if you produce status reports on a semiannual basis. You’re suggesting the CRA has no way of knowing until the next fiscal year if there are irregularities occurring in the administration of a benefit.
Mr. Vermaeten: We closely monitor the process in terms of the administration that goes on, and people take great care in administering the program. I think there’s certainly a process internally where we look at where people are observing patterns in terms of how quickly we’re processing and in terms of acceptance and rejection rates. I guess that’s different from releasing data point in time. When I say “point in time,” over a short period of time, because it can be misleading.
What we want to do is have a rigorous analysis to make sure the data is ready to reveal publicly, and that takes several months to confirm after the fiscal year. It is a lot of data and it is very easy to make mistakes in that world. We want to get it right, and that’s why we have that process of making sure the data is right and release it only once a year.
Senator Seidman: If I might just quote to you one of our witnesses who appeared before this committee, she said to us:
The lack of linked disability population data and benefit utilization data makes it difficult for anyone, including the federal government, to assess how effective the DTC is in reaching its target population and where efforts should be taken to improve awareness and access. This is particularly important given the DTC’s role as a prerequisite to other benefits.
The Chair: Can I just pick up on this? This matter of the Privacy Act is being mentioned frequently. Surely you can take aggregate data without disclosing people involved under the Privacy Act and do a statistical analysis of it. Why isn’t that done?
Mr. Vermaeten: I think we need to distinguish between the Privacy Act and what is collected when we administer the program. You’ll see that things like gender are not part of the basic application, while age is, so we only collect what we need. So that’s the disability tax data.
We can make those linkages and go to another database and do some analysis, which we do periodically, and we certainly have a commitment to do that more, but it is a process that requires extreme care and recognition of all the complexities of the data, such as the fact, for example, that certain files are appealed, that there’s processing and timing and that claims are often made for multi-years. I think that work needs to be done, and we have a commitment to do it, but it is complex.
The Chair: I think you have to bear in mind it’s not just your needs as the CRA, but there are the needs of policymakers and people who advise on policy issues who are looking to get a better understanding because they’re getting all sorts of complaints about why they think this isn’t working.
Senator Petitclerc: I want to hear, if I may, more about the advisory committee, because we’ve heard a lot of testimony and as I have said before, it’s been troubling. It seems to me that it’s not just a question of adjustment but a question of major, in-depth changes to the approach to persons with disabilities, which may be outdated. If I may say it this way, when it comes to the approach to the understanding of different disability groups of the application, the criteria and the forms, we don’t really quite understand the 14 hours. I wonder if you could talk to me in terms of solutions regarding the committee and, maybe, how it was put together when it comes to disability groups. What kind of power would that committee have and what is the process that you are in right now? What is the timeline in terms of a solution?
Mr. Vermaeten: Certainly, I can provide some information.
The primary task of the Disability Advisory Committee is to look at the administration of the program, because that’s what we do at CRA.
On that aspect of it, there’s a lot of very constructive, valuable work that the committee can do. As a matter of fact, we had an excellent first meeting and I think we certainly have the beginnings of an agenda of what we can accomplish over the next few meetings.
When I look at the administrative side, which is really important in terms of the forms and the clarification letters, we’ve created subgroups and we’re going to consult both the medical community and tax preparers in terms of how to make those forms easy to understand for people, doctors and nurse practitioners so that we can get to the right answer. We’re going to do that work.
We’re going to do work on helping to ensure that we administer the program in a consistent way. It’s a real challenge, certainly. I think we have really highly trained people, but we are processing many, many applications a year, maybe around 250,000. That requires a great amount of rigour, and I think the Disability Advisory Committee, with all of its expertise, can help us with that.
They can also help us with respect to the data that the honourable senator just asked about. We need more data to do that kind of analysis, which informs policy. I think the committee can be really helpful in that regard. It was explicitly discussed at the last meeting, and certainly that’s what we want to do.
When it comes to the policy part, it is certainly outside the purview of the CRA to make tax policy changes, but we recognize you can’t just look at the administration and be blind to the legislation, because it is so important. So our initial task will really focus on the administration, but we are certainly going to have very healthy discussions on that intersection between administration and the legislation.
We will be communicating that to the Department of Finance and we will see whether we can make progress on that. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Department of Finance. Members do recognize that that is their responsibility, but they also want to have a say and they’re going to have a say in terms of reporting to the Department of Finance.
This is an advisory committee. It doesn’t in itself have that power to change the legislation or to change administration, but we really recognize the value of what they can bring to the table.
The Chair: So far, all the questions are going to the CRA. Remember, we do have other officials here. If you want to jump in on any of these, just signal by showing your hand. I’m going to put a question to you right now.
ESDC — and for those who are watching, that stands for Employment and Social Development Canada — co-administers the RSDP with the CRA. What do you do in that co-administration, and why don’t you also do it for the DTC?
Krista Wilcox, Director General, Office for Disability Issues, Employment and Social Development Canada: I can answer the first question and I think I can answer the second.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to be here today. I’m pleased to talk about our very important program for people with disabilities.
Our department is responsible for the portion of the RSDP that is the payment that the Government of Canada contributes to an RSDP, so the Canada Disability Savings Plan, which is made up of two components — a grant and a bond — and both of those are income tested to different levels. Our job is to administer that. We work with financial institutions to pay the bond to eligible recipients.
We are also responsible for doing outreach. We do outreach to communities and we’re very active in promoting the RSDP. We work with the financial institutions to do training. I know that was a question that had come up yesterday in the testimony. We do have training for the financial institutions that offer RSDPs and work with them consistently to try to improve what they’re offering to Canadians.
We work very closely with the CRA because there is that linkage with the DTC as the eligibility criteria for RSDPs. In order to be eligible, you have to have a gateway through the DTC and be a resident of Canada. Those are our two main criteria for eligibility, as set by the Income Tax Act.
In terms of why we do not have responsibility for the DTC, that’s a legislative responsibility that has been delegated to CRA through the Income Tax Act from Finance, so I can’t speculate in terms of any other answer of why or whether we should.
The Chair: That’s fair enough.
Senator Munson: You know my views on the advisory committee: It should be expanded. I’ll leave it at that. It’s very important and represents millions of Canadians in the autism community, and I still don’t get that.
I’m a little confused here. It seems that there’s a double whammy at stake, so to speak. A Disability Tax Credit recipient has been receiving the credit for five years, and that same person has an RSDP at the same time, and then, after having it for five years, is rejected. It’s my understanding that the Registered Disability Savings Plan is then disbanded. So, for five years, the government has decided, in all of the departments, that that person is eligible and has been receiving it and feels good because the savings plan that is there can be used at any time or in the future. We’ve lost sight of the fact of any time. So there are two things at stake, and it’s basically over, except going on some kind of other disability measure with the provinces or welfare.
Is there a lot of that taking place now? I’m just confused as to how we got here in the last few months. It was in the media, and these rejections were out there. They seemed to be higher than ever. Why? Maybe because there were more people than ever.
There seems to be a sense, to me, of unfairness here to the person who actually thought he or she was participating and being honest and trusting about receiving these things, which are necessities of life. In this case, money.
Mr. Vermaeten: You had two questions. One was, perhaps, with respect to the policy. Is it fair? Is it appropriate that, when an individual is no longer eligible for the DTC, the RDSP should wind down?I’ll turn to my colleagues on that policy question.
I’ll just say that the winding down doesn’t happen immediately, and there are provisions in there to assure that people aren’t very quickly forced to close the RDSP in situations where cases are reevaluated or in cases where it’s possible that the person could become eligible again.
With respect to the administration — and you referred to a lot of noise out there in terms of the RDSP — I can assure you that we process things on a case-by-case basis, absolutely. There hasn’t been a change in how we do that. It’s a long-standing program. Nevertheless, there’s certainly been a heightened attention paid to the DTC, and I think that’s probably part of it, that heightened attention on the DTC.
We certainly recognize the challenges created when someone who has had a Registered Disability Savings Plan would be required to wind it down if, in fact, they are no longer eligible on an ongoing basis for the DTC. We’re very cognizant of that, and we don’t take that process lightly at all in terms of our responsibilities in terms of administering the Income Tax Act.
Pierre Leblanc, Director General, Personal Income Tax Division, Tax Policy Branch, Department of Finance Canada: On your question of what happens to an RDSP when someone is no longer DTC eligible, maybe just to step back for a second, in terms of the general architecture of the Registered Disability Savings Plan, there was a report, commissioned by the government of the day in 2006, called, A New Beginning, and it was basically the recommendations that formed the foundation of the RDSP, which was introduced in Budget 2007. In that budget, the RDSP that was introduced in most respects closely followed those recommendations. One of the recommendations was that the plan be focused on those who are DTC eligible.
Now, as experience has gone on and as we learn how the RDSP has been rolled out, we learn that these issues arise, so there was a review of the RDSP that we conducted in 2011. Through consultations, this was one of the issues that was identified. As a result of that feedback, there was a measure introduced in Budget 2012, I believe, that allowed, in these cases, an RDSP to remain open, but with certain conditions. So that individual wouldn’t be eligible to receive the grants and bonds that my colleague from ESDC described, and there would be a requirement that there be a likelihood that the individual would be eligible again within the next five years. To be fair, that doesn’t work for everyone, so we recognize that it’s an ongoing issue. But that’s just a bit of background, a bit of the history and rationale for where we are, but we recognize the issue.
The Chair: We’re going to need to move along crisply to get it all done.
Senator Omidvar: I will try to be crisp. It’s, I think, a fairly simple question. It goes to administration, access and appeals, squarely in what you do.
We have heard from witnesses that the issue of access and appeal is a difficult one. There is an increasing reluctance, apparently, by the medical professionals to fill out the forms. In some cases, the medical professionals are charging a fee. There are individuals in this world who, I would say, are predators, who are helping potential customers of the DTC to file their appeal or their application, and they charge a 30 per cent fee off of the value of the benefit.
This leads me to a question around support to the community. Is there an NGO that supports the work of access and appeal? If not, should there be one? And, if not, would ESDC consider supporting such an NGO to manage this whole process so that both of your work becomes easier with support and filling out forms appropriately? It would help the individual because you’d make it easier for them, and there would be no fees or predatory fees involved.
Mr. Vermaeten: I can start out but maybe turn to my colleague from ESDC.
You had a couple of questions in there, one with respect to predatory practices. The minister and the deputy commissioner, I think, responded to that in terms of there being legislation out there. The government is working on regulations to put that in place, to make sure that we restrict those types of predatory practices. That’s one part.
With respect to the appeals process, nobody likes appeals processes, and they can be quite burdensome. I think what we try to do is to make it as absolutely easy as possible to avoid that last resort. There are quite a few processes in place for that. We allow people to submit additional information after they’ve received their initial determination. If the determination is to not be accepted for the DTC, they can submit that information and we will review it again. They can do that several times, if they would like. So that’s one thing.
Then, if that fails, they can also resubmit an entirely new DTC application. For example, they may wish to go to another doctor. In part, this is a medical practitioner. It’s the report we get from the medical practitioner. Maybe the medical practitioner didn’t understand the impairment for that specific purpose because it was not their regular doctor or not specialized in that area. They do have an opportunity to submit another application, and they can submit those as often as they want.
Then, they can go and file an objection. We’ve tried to simplify the way they file that objection. I will say that the number of objections and the number of appeals are very low, given the size of the program, which tells me that, in most cases, I believe, we’re administering the program very well and we’re very clear.
When I look at the number of objections, they have come down, and, as a percentage of the program, are extremely small. That said, I think people can always use additional support in these processes.
I think we have a tremendous volunteer community out there, run through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, which does provide support to help people with this, in many cases. But I think it’s a separate question about whether an NGO, with financial support from the government, would be useful to provide some additional support. Maybe I’ll turn to Ms. Wilcox for that.
Senator Omidvar: I’ll just make a comment first on all the processes you have laid out. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of someone who is disabled. When you describe these processes upon processes — and we have heard about this — some individuals just give up because it’s too complex and complicated for them.
I wonder if you could comment on the need to create an institutional response in an NGO for support to the community.
Ms. Wilcox: We certainly work very closely with the stakeholder community in this area. We have programs that support the operational nature of our national disability organizations, for example, so they are very active on the issue.
In terms of ESDC supporting an NGO to do the appeal process for the DTC, specifically, we haven’t had any discussions around that. In our program on the CDSP, it’s more binary. You’re eligible for the DTC or you are not. We don’t really have the same kind of appeals process in ours.
However, we’re aware of the issues that people with disabilities have in terms of applying for benefits. We’re working with community organizations and looking at ways, even through promotion and outreach, that we can use their expertise to help with the DTC. Frank’s team and my team are working closely together on that and RDSPs at the same time, given their linkages.
Senator Christmas: My question is also for the assistant commissioner. Sir, you mentioned in your opening statement that CRA teams that assess DTC applications receive “significant training.” I have two questions. Can you describe this training that these employees receive, and are there any CRA employees with disabilities on these teams?
Mr. Vermaeten: If I look at the DTC, it is the longest training program of any of the programs we administer. It’s a three-month training program. People go through understanding the legislation, the interpretation of the legislation and how to administer the program, and they’re given hands-on instructions. It’s a long process to do this in terms of the training.
After they’ve completed their training, for quite a long period of time, each file they go through is then looked over by a senior policy officer or manager, depending on the case, to make sure that they have undertaken all the right steps, so there’s that safety valve for those new employees.
On top of that, they have what’s called a technical operation manual, which very clearly sets out a grid on what they do in each case. Add to that the fact we have nurses available for consultations to look at difficult cases or cases where an individual doesn’t understand or where marginal calls need to be made. That provides a tremendous amount of support as well. When there is some doubt, the nurses follow up with the medical practitioner and ask the probing questions in order to make sure we get to the right answer.
Senator Christmas: If I’m correct, then, the bulk of the training is about policy, procedure and process; is that correct?
Mr. Vermaeten: That is correct. The way the process works is we get the applications, and the medical practitioner has provided the information with respect to the impairment. The training has to do with the question: Are those impairments consistent with the legislation? Do they meet the threshold of what is set out in the legislation?
Senator Christmas: Has there been any training at all along the lines of helping employees understand some of the major disabilities for which people would apply for a tax credit?
Mr. Vermaeten: Yes, that’s certainly part of it, but to be clear, their job is not to second guess what the medical community has provided. Their job is to look at what qualifies with respect to the Income Tax Act.
Let’s say, for example, the medical practitioner provides a listing of X amount of time spent on these various activities with respect to life-sustaining therapy. The job of the CRA officer is to say this is an eligible activity, this is an eligible activity and this is not, and then to make sure the 14-hour threshold is met. If it isn’t, they then follow up with the medical practitioner to see whether additional information can be provided to see whether the person is eligible for the DTC.
Ms. Wilcox: I wanted to say that one of the things my directorate does is we’re a focal point across the Government of Canada for people with disabilities. We’re working closely with the Canada School of Public Service to roll out training across the government for all officials in order to raise awareness about issues with respect to people with disabilities, to understand accessibility and to improve overall public servants’ ability to address these populations. That’s something we are working on. Obviously, it’s not specific to Frank’s case but is something we are trying to bring across the Government of Canada.
Senator Christmas: My second question was: Are there any people with disabilities on these teams?
Ms. Wilcox: My directorate alone meets the department’s employment equity numbers for people with disabilities. I would argue, actually, almost my entire team has lived experience with people with disabilities, either from a family member or they themselves having a lived experience. We can all do better, and there are some types of disabilities with less representation — for example, the deaf community is not as representative — but we have a very high standard of employment of people. I don’t have the number off the top of my head, but it is very high for my team.
The Chair: I also want the answer from CRA on that.
Mr. Vermaeten: As with ESDC, we absolutely have people in the disabled community working on these files. There’s often a natural interest for people who have to deal with disabilities, whether it’s their own or someone they are associated with. We do have that, and that does bring in some additional experience that’s very helpful and makes the program just that little bit better.
Senator Neufeld: Thank you all of you for being here.
I’m not a member of this committee, but where I live in British Columbia, I’ve heard a lot of people complaining that, all of sudden, things have changed dramatically for them. I hear “thousands of changes,” and then some people who have been on disability for five years or maybe even longer suddenly find themselves cut off. We had the minister here. She says nothing changed in the regulations and nothing changed in the legislation — nothing changed. Well, something changed.
So maybe you can help me here. Were all of these poorly adjudicated before — the ones that were there — or is it now poorly adjudicated when we start kicking them off? Because something changed. That question was asked. These people deserve an answer of some kind. How can you be on disability for five, eight or more years, and boom, you’re off? Something went wrong either prior to now, because there is a spike — everybody has admitted that, and we heard that from the minister — or something is being done wrong now. Something changed. The legislation and regulations didn’t. Help me a bit.
Mr. Vermaeten: I’d be pleased to do that.
As the minister said, the criteria for eligibility absolutely has not changed recently with respect to the DTC or any of the sub-components of the DTC, but there certainly was an administrative change that had some unintended consequences. Let me explain that to you.
We receive the DTC applications. There are two components: the part the individual fills out and the part the medical practitioner fills in. We receive that and try to determine whether an individual is eligible or not. In most cases, with that information, we’re able to determine immediately whether that person is eligible or not. It’s straightforward.
In about 30 per cent of the cases we have to send clarification letters to medical practitioners because there isn’t enough information to come to a definitive ruling. Clarification letters have been a long-standing practice, essentially to get additional information.
We do look at these clarification letters from time to time to see whether we can improve upon them to get the information that we need as things evolve. They don’t change very often, but they definitely do change.
The one that has changed in the last several years is the clarification letter with respect to life-sustaining therapy. We changed that clarification letter because we got feedback from the medical community. They felt it was difficult to respond to that particular component, so we made some changes in May 2017.
That had some unintended consequences, I think, with respect to a very specific population. That’s why the minister asked us, one, to return to the old clarification letter; and, two, for those applications that were rejected where this class of clarification letter was used, to look at that and apply the other original clarification letter. That’s exactly what we’ve done.
On top of that, the minister announced the creation of the Disability Advisory Committee, precisely to make sure that when we make changes like that, that there are more consultations on that. I believe that’s really important. The Disability Advisory Committee can make a big contribution to make sure that when there are changes, or when we’re proposing changes, that those changes are understood and we are fully cognizant of the impacts of those changes.
In summary, there were no changes to the eligibility criteria — absolutely not. There was a small change in the administration. It had an unintended consequence and we’ve addressed that issue.
Senator Neufeld: Prior to everything happening and people losing their disability benefit, you said there was a small change and it had dramatic consequences. Did you know that before you sent letters to people or informed people that they were no longer on disability? Did you know that within the department before you let people know and try to adjudicate that a bit? Changing back to another letter now might change some of the adjudications, I would assume. Would that be correct?
Mr. Vermaeten: The change in the clarification letter was done at the program level, after receiving feedback from the medical community and internally consulting with the people within the program, including the nurses that we have on staff, to try to improve the clarification letter. That was put into production. It takes a little while because you put a clarification letter in and people then put in the application. It doesn’t actually impact people for several months.
However, we did hear a lot of feedback about this was increasing the rejection rates. We obviously immediately looked into this to see whether in fact that was happening. We responded by going back to the original letter. Now the Disability Advisory Committee will have an opportunity to look at those clarification letters to see whether we can improve them and how to continue to evolve them.
Let me clarify one thing. It definitely impacted people, but it was a very narrow range of the applicants because this had to do with the life-sustaining therapy. None of the other clarification letters were changed. None of the other processes were changed. It has certainly impacted a group. It was a relatively small group as a percentage but an important group. We’ve since corrected that action.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I’m going to finish this section with three quick questions. We will get them all on the table and then get your response. The first comes from Senator Seidman and then I have two.
Senator Seidman: Quickly, we heard stories of disabled claimants being forced to go to court to get their benefits from the CRA. I would like to know how many cases have moved beyond the CRA appeals process to the Tax Court within the last five years. How many has CRA won and lost and what have the litigation costs been?
Also, we heard yesterday that a 1-800 number to support DTC applicants would be a useful tool in navigating the system. I would like to know if CRA offers a similar dedicated service for other benefits and if they have ever offered such a service to DTC applicants.
The Chair: While you’re mulling that over, I have some quick questions. There is an experiment going on for automatic enrolment in the Guaranteed Income Supplement for people with low income. Could you not do that for people who qualify for the DTC in terms of getting enrolled in the RDSP, an automatic enrolment?
Why is there a 10-year rule of RDSP before people can access the money? We’ve heard people say they need access sooner than that. Why not access it when they need it?
Mr. Leblanc: To start with your last question, senator, it’s a bit like the answer I gave to Senator Munson. The architecture of the RDSP was inspired by the report of the expert panel commissioned and delivered in 2006. There was a real emphasis on the importance that this plan would have in ensuring long-term financial security. The 10-year rule was recommended in that report and was part of the RDSP when it was introduced the following year in Budget 2007.
Mr. Vermaeten: Maybe I can briefly speak to the first two questions.
I don’t have all the information you asked for in terms of appeals but I can tell you that 28 appeals have been heard by the Tax Court in 2017-18, as compared to 15 in the year 2016-17, as compared to the highest number in the last five years of 45 in 2014-15. That gives you a sense of the size.
Senator Seidman: If you can’t provide the other information, like how many has the CRA won, how many have they lost and what the litigation costs have been over the last five years, would you be able to supply that in writing to the committee over the next few weeks?
Mr. Vermaeten: I can ask my colleagues if that information is available and, if it is, of course we’ll supply it.
Your second question was about creating a dedicated line for DTC support?
Senator Seidman: A 1-800 number.
Mr. Vermaeten: Of course, a 1-800 number. I can take back that proposal. I don’t know the history and whether that was ever available in the past. We do have a dedicated number for benefits. When people have specific questions on DTC, there’s a process where it’s passed on to a tier two agent generally speaking, a higher qualified agent, to be able to answer those questions. If the question is even more complex than that or more specific, there’s a process whereby the call centre then goes directly to the program, the DTC experts, and those experts call back the client that’s interested in additional information. That’s the existing process right now.
Senator Seidman: I want to pick that up and be clear on what you said. Do you offer a dedicated service, a 1-800 number, for other benefits? Does CRA do it for other benefits?
Mr. Vermaeten: There is a benefits line. It is a 1-800 number dedicated to benefits as opposed to the individual tax and business tax, and that deals with the full range of benefits, like the Canada Child Benefit.
Ms. Wilcox: On that last point, I would say with the program that we have on the CDSP, we do have a dedicated line of tier two and tier three support, a specialized call centre that deals with our clients on issues relate to the RDSP.
On auto enrolment, it’s something that we’ve heard about and it’s just not the way the program is designed at the moment. But it is something that we have heard from stakeholders before, and we are aware of that.
The Chair: It would help low-income people, rather than going through tons of processing all the time, without so many forms to fill out.
That’s the end of this panel. Thanks very much to all of you for being here and for your answers to the questions that were put. We appreciate it.