As hundreds of thousands of Canadians face the prospect of having to repay the money they received from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that this does not should be stressful for anyone.
Speaking at a press conference, Trudeau was asked about recent letters from the CRA to approximately 441,000 Canadians, suggesting they may need to repay some or all of the $ 2,000 monthly payments they they received by December 31, 2020.
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Letters sent to Canadians request more information from recipients to determine if they meet the income eligibility criteria for CERB. Trudeau said this was because some people had committed frauds and companies had also profited in a way that “isn’t fair.”
But, he said, if Canadians made a “good faith mistake” in completing income eligibility for CERB, they would not be “punished”.
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“We didn’t provide support to the millions of people who needed it just to get it back on Christmas,” Trudeau said.
“We’re already seeing over a million refunds from people who got CERB unfairly, or additional payments from CERB, it’s because Canadians are impartial and accountable,” Trudeau said.
“I don’t want this to be an added stressor for a Christmas that is already like no other.”
The prime minister said people can feel “reassured that any good faith mistake will not be penalized.”
“We’re going to be working with people over the coming weeks and months to make sure they get the support they need.”
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When CERB was first launched, the government said it would later verify eligibility and recover unjustified payments, in a process described by Trudeau as a way to help Canadians trust their institutions during a crisis and root out fraudsters.
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CERB recipients claim that the erroneous ineligibility is due to a lack of a clear explanation from the CRA, especially regarding the income threshold to apply for the benefit.
A benefit eligibility webpage states that to claim the $ 2,000 CERB payment, beneficiaries must have earned a minimum of “$ 5,000 (before taxes)” in the past 12 months, or in 2019, of income from employment or self-employment, or maternity or parental benefits.
But the CRA said that income threshold is calculated after a beneficiary deducts their expenses, a fact that is not explicitly stated on the eligibility web page.
This means that the CRA considers Canadians who may have crossed the threshold before the expense, but did not clear it after the expense, not eligible for CERB.
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The agency denies changing the rules and said it already calculates self-employment income as “net income before tax” or, in other words, “gross income minus expenses”. He pointed out that another web page with questions and answers on CERB includes this distinction.
ARC spokeswoman Sylvie Branch told The Canadian Press that people who received the letter should not see it as a final decision to return the money – only that the agency did not still enough recipient information to confirm CERB eligibility.
The branch also said the Dec. 31 date in the letter was not a “deadline” for payment, but simply a preferred date to avoid impacting 2020 tax returns.
When asked if Trudeau would not tax certain people, the Prime Minister said in French: “I can confirm that people who made honest mistakes… do not have to worry about taxes. I don’t want people to worry. I promised that we will help those who need it. ”
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– With files from the Canadian Press
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