How to get help filing your income tax return in the GTA — for free
With tax season in full swing, volunteers across the Greater Toronto Area are available to help people with low or modest incomes file their income tax and benefit returns, potentially earning them money they could be entitled to.
During March and April, dozens of tax clinics across the region are offering filing services — free of charge — through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program. The clinics are being held at various libraries, community organizations, seniors' centres, shelters, churches and political offices, with walk-in, drop-off, by appointment or virtual options available.
In 2021, 160,860 people filed returns this way in Ontario, with help from trained volunteers at 1,240 organizations across the province, according to the Canada Revenue Agency.
"This has really been a great help to our communities," said Jyothi Venkatesh, who helps run the free tax clinic at North York Community House in northwest Toronto.
"We've been able to reach so many people who are low income, who are newcomers to Canada, [who] might have any kind of immigration status such as refugees or refugee claimants, or [permanent residency]."
Venkatesh said her organization helped more than 1,600 people file their taxes last year. After making an appointment, those looking for help can attend the clinic in-person or virtually with their relevant documents, and can usually file in one sitting, she said.
"One of the biggest benefits of filing tax returns is that you start getting government benefits," said Venkatesh. "So for a person in need, these government benefits, such as the GST credit or the Ontario Trillium Benefit, these are very, very helpful."
Benefits being left on the table
Around 10 to 12 per cent of Canadians don't file their taxes each year, most of whom are missing out on government benefits as a result. That's according to a 2020 paper published in the journal, Canadian Public Policy.
Jagdeep Kailey, who supervises the tax clinic at the Peel Multicultural Council in Mississauga, said beyond being necessary to qualify for government benefits, such as the Canada Child Benefit, filing taxes can also open the door to additional financial aid.
"If you have to seek any financial assistance from a financial institution or something, they want to see what is your level of income, whatever little that is," he said.
One of the biggest benefits of filing tax returns is that you start getting government benefits. For a person in need ... these are very helpful. - Jyothi Venkatesh, North York Community House
Eligibility for help from a free tax clinic is based on annual income. The maximum eligible income is $35,000 per year, with the threshold increasing for each additional member of a household. However, adjustments can be made based on local economic factors, according to CRA.
Tax filers must also have a "simple tax situation," meaning they don't earn income from self-employment, business, rental, interest, capital gains or foreign sources. They also can't have declared bankruptcy during the tax year.
Vijaya Kula, founder of the Frontline Community Centre in Scarborough, said the tax clinic her organization runs helps low income people avoid paying fees to private accountants they can't necessarily afford.
"Other places are quite expensive for the people to get it done, so that's why we do the services," said Kula.
Tax services at Frontline are offered in many languages, Kula said, including Tamil, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Persian and more.
"It's very sensitive in terms of their income and the benefits," Kula said. "So people want to go to their trusted place where they can speak their language and they're comfortable."
For a full list of free tax clinics in you area, visit the Canada Revenue Agency's website.
Other free tax help is available
Free help isn't just available for people with low or modest incomes.
Public libraries in Toronto and Mississauga are offering free workshops for people looking for information about how to file their taxes.
In addition to tax clinics, the Mississauga Library is offering topical workshops for first-time tax filers, anyone who needs a refresher, retirees, newcomers and young people. For a full schedule, visit the library's website.
A full list of upcoming tax and finance-related events at Toronto Public Library locations, including a "facilitated self-filing tax workshop," is available here.
The deadline to file tax returns this year is April 30. For households where at least one of the earners is self-employed, the deadline is June 15.