Disability tax credit: Probe highlights need for review
TheStar.com – opinion/editorial
Published On Sat Feb 12 2011.
A company that helps people apply for federal tax benefits calls itself “passionate about helping Canadians with disabilities.”
But, according to a joint Toronto Star/CBC investigation, National Benefit Authority appears most interested in helping itself to government money — any way it can get it.
When it helps Canadians with serious disabilities get a tax credit, intended to ease their financial burdens, National Benefit takes 30 per cent of it. And — as former employees said in the Star on Thursday — when it encourages people to exaggerate their health problems so they can qualify for benefits, it rakes in even more profit.
In the first instance, it is taking advantage of disabled Canadians — often the poorest and most vulnerable among us. In the second, it is undermining the Disability Tax Credit program itself. That, ultimately, puts the $700 million in annual benefits for disabled Canadians at risk. No one needs that kind of help.
In light of the concerns raised in the investigation, Ontario’s Consumer Services Minister John Gerretsen has asked his staff to “closely review complaints about these companies” to determine if there is any action the province can take. That’s a start.
The province should crack down on any company that takes advantage of people or misleads them into believing they need to pay a private company to get a public benefit. Indeed, MPs routinely help people fill out these and other tax benefit forms for free.
Given that some National Benefit clients have been contacted by the Canada Revenue Agency, it would appear that officials are starting to pay attention. It’s about time.
If one doctor, who is not licensed to practise in Canada, and another found “incompetent” by Ontario’s physician regulator, were able to submit claims — as uncovered by the investigation — then tax officials were asleep at the switch.
The revenue agency should review its own procedures and look out for companies that may be pushing exaggerated disability claims. But it must do that without making it harder for those with legitimate claims to get or keep their benefits.
But the agency must go beyond just looking at the practices of individual companies and address the root cause of why this fast-growing industry even exists.
Why is it that National Benefit can successfully advertise how “complex and overwhelming” the application process can be? The company’s president, Akiva Medjuck, says even doctors don’t know how to fill out the forms properly.
No application should be so hard to navigate, particularly one designed to help Canadians with severe disabilities.
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