Filing taxes shouldn’t be so tough

The tax-filer was optimistic. The Canada Revenue Agency had sent him a basic income tax package in the mail — one personally addressed to him.

Maybe that meant the CRA was relenting. Maybe it was no longer intent on forcing Canadians to file their income tax returns online.

Maybe this year, the tax-filer could persuade the CRA to send him a copy of booklet T4002.

The tax-filer earns a small amount of money from freelance journalism. Years ago, he was told that this meant he should fill out form T2125 for self-employed business people and professionals.

In those heady days of simplicity, form T2125 came with a booklet that explained how to fill it out.

The tax-filer would spread his documents out on the dining room table and peruse the mysteries of capital cost allowances and business use of home expenses to see if they applied to him (usually they didn’t).

But then the CRA decided to go digital. Filing tax returns by mail was deemed too square.

First, the CRA stopped sending out basic T1 income tax forms by mail. Those who wanted print copies were told they could pick them up at the post office instead.

Then the agency limited the number it sent to post offices. If you didn’t get to the post office in time, you were out of luck. You’d have to phone the CRA and make a request.

Then the CRA stopped answering its phone.

The tax-filer was reluctant to file online. He didn’t trust the CRA’s ability to protect its online service from being hacked. Indeed, in 2014 and 2017, the CRA briefly shut down its website after it was compromised.

So year after year, the tax-filer used pen and ink. And year after year, he called the CRA to order the forms that would allow him to do that.

This year, he was initially cheered when the CRA said, in its personalized mailing, that he could call a special 1-800 number to order forms. Then he tried the number.

The tax-filer’s first attempt, in mid February, was a flop. He was put on hold for half an hour before conceding defeat.

His second try a week later was more successful. The agent promised to send him four copies of form T2125. (As payment for his sins, the tax-filer also does his wife’s income taxes.)

But the agent explained that he couldn’t send booklet T4002, the publication explaining how to fill out this form. He could only request that another department send it.

Nothing came from either department. Two weeks later, the tax-filer phoned the CRA again and spoke to another agent.

This try was more successful. Four copies of form T2125 arrived two weeks later. A fifth came a week after that. But still no luck with booklet T4002.

The tax-filer phoned again. This time, an agent told him that he no longer qualified to receive booklet T4002 because he’d already ordered one.

“But I didn’t get it,” the tax-filer said. Doesn’t matter, the agent replied. A request from your address has already been logged. The computer won’t allow another.

What I can do, the agent said, is send a copy to a neighbour at a different address. The computer will allow that.

The tax-filer provided a neighbour’s address. Two weeks later, no booklet T4002 had arrived — either at the tax-filer’s home or his neighbour’s.

Eventually, the tax filer sat down at his dining room table and filled out form T2125 as best he could, using the previous year’s return as a model. He hoped the rules hadn’t changed much.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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