Scrutiny of CRA push to collect on overpaid COVID benefits welcome: minister's office

·2 min read

OTTAWA — Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier's office says it welcomes a federal watchdog's decision to monitor the way the Canada Revenue Agency collects on overpayments of COVID-19 benefits.

The Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson announced Thursday it is monitoring complaints from people who say they are receiving collection letters from the CRA despite having repaid the government for pandemic benefits they did not qualify for.

The CRA announced in April it was resuming efforts to recover the money through a process it calls "offsetting," which means that it automatically uses money from tax refunds and some benefits to settle a person's debt with the government.

The agency says that as of April 13, more than 1.1 million notices have been sent to people with an amount owing from overpayments from COVID-related benefits, but notes that some people may have received more than one notice.

The CRA says close to $1.4 billion in COVID benefits have been repaid, including about $237 million from about 775,000 people through the use of offsetting.

The auditor general's office reported in December that the federal government gave $4.9 billion worth of pandemic benefits to ineligible recipients, including subsidies for wages.

The CRA first started clawing back tax refunds last October.

The ombudsperson's office said it continues to receive complaints and will launch a formal investigation into the matter if needed.

The ombudsperson says it is possible that people found out about their overpayments from other sources, such as another government department, then paid the money back without the CRA’s knowledge.

Lebouthillier's office said the she will work with the ombudsperson where necessary.

"It is important to note that there are already systems and procedures in place between Service Canada and the CRA when an individual reimburses CERB payments,” said Jérémy Collard, the minister's press secretary, in an email.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.

The Canadian Press