‘The CRA lied to us’ about tax credit, say diabetes advocacy groups

Groups obtained internal memo telling CRA agents to deny most claims for tax credit

Dec 04, 2017 – CBC News

 

Diabetes research and advocacy groups say the Canada Revenue Agency has been lying to them about changes to how it assesses applications for the disability tax credit.

In order to qualify for the credit, the CRA requires adults with Type 1 diabetes to spend at least 14 hours a week on activities, specified by the agency, related to administering insulin. A patient’s physician must confirm those hours to the CRA.

Diabetes Canada and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation obtained an internal CRA memo, dated May 2, 2017, that says: “Unless there are exceptional circumstances, adults with diabetes can generally manage their daily insulin therapy without taking 14 hours per week.”

Kimberley Hanson of Diabetes Canada says that effectively means most adults with Type 1 diabetes will be denied the disability tax credit, even if they had been approved in previous years.

“It put into place a practice whereby no matter what a doctor or a nurse practitioner certifies for their patient, the agent is to disbelieve that and say no,” said Hanson at a news conference Monday in Ottawa.

Since May, people with Type 1 diabetes have complained that hundreds of them were suddenly being turned down for the tax credit.

Hanson said they started asking questions and the CRA denied there were any substantial changes.

“I consider that the CRA lied to us in not admitting they sent this email May 2nd and pretending that they were shocked that there had been a change and that it was impacting so many people,” she said.

No change, minister says

National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier has faced questions recently in the House of Commons about the increase in denied applications. At the time, she said there has been no change in the criteria used to assess people with Type 1 diabetes.

Technically that is true, as the 14 hours per week criterion still holds. But the memo shows that CRA has been directed to assume adults would rarely need that much time, regardless of what a physician says.

“It’s not fair that she says that I don’t meet the 14-hour requirement,” said Jill Combs, who has Type 1 diabetes and was also present at Monday’s news conference. “I live diabetes every minute, every second of my day.”

“My diabetes expenses are so high right now. Taking more away, we’re left with nothing.”

The groups say they showed the memo to the minister last Thursday at a meeting, but that she made no move to rescind its directive.

Benefit rejections spike 70 per cent in 2017

The minister’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

The opposition asked the minister about the memo in question period Monday, accusing her of misleading the House when she said nothing has changed.

In response, Lebouthillier reiterated her argument that the criteria haven’t changed and that, in fact, approvals for the disability tax credit have increased 20 per cent between 2014 and 2016.

However, those numbers do not take into account the changes since May 2, 2017. Diabetes Canada says in 2017 so far, denials of the disability tax credit for the life-sustaining therapy category under which Type 1 diabetics fall, has spiked 70 per cent.

 

‘It’s a labyrinth’: Montreal mom out hundreds of dollars applying for son’s disability tax credit

December 8, 2018 – CBC News

Sharon McCarry says applying for Canada’s DTC is expensive and time consuming, calls for changes to program

 

A Montreal West mother says she’s exhausted and frustrated by the cost and red tape required to access Canada’s disability tax credit (DTC) for her son, who has autism.

Sharon McCarry says she must spend more than $1,000 every five years to have her 14-year-old son Colm rediagnosed to be eligible for the tax break — and that doesn’t guarantee she’ll receive it.

There are a limited number of medical professionals available to fill out the application and renewal forms, so families are often forced to pay between $1,200 and $1,500 to hire a private psychologist or psychiatrist to provide a full diagnosis.

Even if her application is properly filled out and includes a diagnosis, it’s ultimately up to a Canada Revenue Agency employee to determine whether his condition is severe enough to qualify for the DTC — meaning the money she paid for the reassessment could be for naught.

“It is a literal nightmare. It is. It’s a labyrinth. It’s really crazy,” she said.

She’s calling for an upheaval of the process, which she believes discriminates against people with autism.

She’s the latest in a series of voices criticizing Canada’s DTC.

The chair of the board of directors of Autism Canada, Dermot Cleary, said last week in a news conference that he’s hearing applications are being denied despite no marked change in the child’s behaviour.

“It is common that an individual’s condition did not change from the original assessment or application and yet, applications for renewal are denied upon review,” he said.

Getting tax credit based on impairment effects
McCarry owns and operates La Fondation Place Coco, a non-profit organization that manages and operates a preschool offering support and intervention services for children with autism.

She says she works with children with autism frequently, and though early intervention makes a big difference in their abilities, she believes it’s unfair the government requires parents to rediagnose every few years.

“Maybe it’s because they think our kids can actually get better, and we certainly hope they do,” she said. “But I think what they’re trying to do is weed people out, and potentially, just looking for a cash grab. And it’s a pity.”

The CRA said in a statement that it grants the tax break on a case-by-case basis and that eligibility is not based on diagnosis, but rather on the effects of the impairment on the ability to perform the basic activities of daily living.

“The Canada Revenue Agency enforces the Income Tax Act and related acts, and is committed to administer measures for persons with disabilities in a fair, transparent, and accessible way,” reads the statement.

It also said that last year, more Canadians than ever qualified for the disability tax credit under the category of mental functions.

In a statement released Friday, the CRA said that its Disability Advisory Committee would be charged with formulating recommendations on the CRA’s administrative practices “through broader, more comprehensive stakeholder consultations.”

The CRA will also review the applications that have been denied since May 2017.

Moncton man among growing number of Canadians with diabetes denied disability tax credit

October 31, 2017 – Global News

A New Brunswick man with diabetes is calling on the Canada Revenue Agency to make it easier for people with the disease to qualify for the disability tax credit after his claim was denied.

Kevin Dunphy says he was told his claim was rejected because “I don’t consume 14 hours a week taking care of my diabetes.”

Dunphy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes more than 35 years ago and tests his blood sugar levels and administers insulin at least four times every day to manage his disease.

However, when he applied for the federal disability tax credit, the CRA did not consider the time he spends preparing health meals, exercising and managing his stress as “life-sustaining therapy.”

According to Diabetes Canada, most disability tax credit claims made by Canadians with diabetes have been denied by the CRA in the last six months.

Hanson says the the reasons for the recent spike in denials are still unclear but she believes some life choices being made by people with diabetes, such as time spent counting carbohydrates, are not being taken into consideration by Revenue Canada.

“There are activities that are critical to administering the life-sustaining therapy that Type 1 diabetics needs to stay alive that are not allowable under the 14-hour requirement,” she said.

Hanson says it could be at least part of the reason that more Canadians with diabetes are being denied the on average $1,500 tax credit.

She says the rejections could be an added financial burden for people in New Brunswick, who have among the highest rates of diabetes in the country.

Dunphy says his claim was denied two years ago, so he’s already missed out on about $3,000 in tax credits.

He believes that time spent counting carbohydrates and exercise should be counted as “life-sustaining therapy” under the 14-hour time requirement.

“The economy cannot sustain an unhealthy population, so if we can do something through our tax benefits to provide a tool for those families to increase their income that they can apply to food healthy and exercise, that is a benefit,” he said.

CRA tells Commons committee it suspended action on disability tax credit

CRA tells Commons committee it suspended action on disability tax credit

The Canada Revenue Agency stopped processing all disability tax credit applications made by diabetics for a short time this past year, a senior CRA official told the Commons finance committee on Thursday.

“We did, for a period of time, stop processing,” Frank Vermaeten, the CRA’s assistant commissioner for the Assessments, Benefits and Services Branch, said in response to questions from Conservative MP Tom Kmiec.

Last year saw $1.3 billion claimed though the DTC and the CRA received roughly 770,000 applications from people suffering from a range of conditions. How many of those were diabetics is not known. Since then, the CRA said the number of applications has gone up by eight per cent.

The federal government has made investments to help CRA cope with the overall increase in applications, but that hasn’t stopped a pubic outcry over soaring wait times for DTC applications by Canadian diabetics.

“Whereas it used to be three or four weeks, now it’s over 40 weeks that most people are being quoted for a response to their application,” Kimberely Hanson of Diabetes Canada told the finance committee in an appearance on Nov. 7.

Also, Hanson said, diabetics are now finding their applications are less likely to succeed. A year ago, 80 per cent of DTC applications coming from type one diabetics were approved.

“Since May 2017, that number has plummeted to less than 20 per cent,” said Hanson.

“I have personally seen 715 cases of disallowance. I have statistics that are coming from groups that treat or support thousands of patients trying to access the disability tax credit.”

Conservative MP Pat Kelly said Thursday that the processing freeze can only have made things worse.

“It would certainly add to their wait times,” said Kelly.

Vermaeten did not say how long the CRA freeze was in place, but Hanson said on Nov. 7 that she believed it lasted at least 13 days and started on Oct. 25. CRA officials told the committee that DTC files are sorted by severity, not by disability, making a solution to the delays hard to arrive at and suggesting that individual files have to be manually reviewed.

Vermaeten told the committee Thursday the freeze was imposed to allow CRA to explore diabetics’ concerns about the drop in approvals.

“When it became a public issue, there was a short period of time where we closely looked at some of the existing files to see whether there was something we were not processing properly,” said Vermaeten. “It takes a little while. There was a temporary hold.”

For diabetics, that freeze could compound their anxiety while awaiting approval.

“We all have constituents who have been rejected who have type one diabetes, and the disability tax credit is extremely important to them,” said Wayne Easter, the Liberal chair of the House finance committee.

“We have people in tears on the phone who cannot understand why at one point in time they were accepted and now they’re not.”

CRA Commissioner Bob Hamilton told the committee Thursday that he had never heard about an individual being forced to wait 40 weeks for a decision on an application. He said that the average wait time is currently about 10 weeks.

However, if applicants wish to claim the credit for previous periods of time when they were eligible for the DTC, Vermaeten acknowledged they could be waiting at least eight weeks longer.

The CRA’s response failed to quell Kelly’s concerns.

“There seems to be a lot of scrambling at the CRA on this issue,” said Kelly.

Tory MPs say the government is denying tax credit to diabetics

Oct 22, 2017 – iPolitics 

Conservative MPs say the Liberal government has been denying a tax credit to people with diabetes despite the fact their doctors say they’re eligible.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said at a press conference in Ottawa Sunday that it was recently brought to his attention that the Canada Revenue Agency has been denying diabetics’ applications for the Disability Tax Credit – even after doctors confirm that their patient is eligible. That’s forced people with Type 1 diabetes (TD1) to pay an additional $15,000 annually.

Poilievre said the revenue department stopped approving the tax credit in May.

Poilievre was joined by national revenue critic Pat Kelly, small business critic Dan Albas, Kimberley Hanson from Diabetes Canada, and one of Poilievre’s constituents who has diabetes who was recently denied the tax credit.

Hanson said thousands of claimants who had previously been given the $1,500 annual benefit have been rejected in recent months and that government officials have for the most part rebuffed their concerns.

Diabetes Canada wrote a letter to National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier in early October over the organization’s concerns with the growing number of Canadians with TD1 being denied relief.

Lebouthillier’s spokesman John Power said there has been no change to the eligibility criteria for the DTC related to diabetes.

In a statement, he called the concerns raised by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and other groups worrisome. He said Lebouthillier has heard tax credit concerns from groups representing Canadians with disabilities since November 2016  and is taking steps to make the credit available to all who are eligible.

“The Minister is asking the agency to improve data collection regarding the Disability Tax Credit in order to better understand the portrait of DTC claims and the decision making process of the agency.”

In its Oct. 3 letter to the minister signed by BC Diabetes, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism, and JDRF, Diabetes Canada said that for those who have been able to access the tax credit, it has helped defray some of the uninsurable costs of insulin therapy.

“Unfortunately, the (credit) has always been inconsistently granted, and recently that inconsistency has grown markedly worse to the point where it has become very difficult, if not impossible, for adults with DT1 to qualify for the DTC,” it states.

“Despite physicians having duly certified, in accordance with the Income Tax Act, that their patients require more than 14 hours a week for their insulin therapy, applicants are now being denied on the basis that ‘the type of therapy indicated does not meet the 14 hour per week criteria.’”

Those denials are in direct contradiction to physicians’ advice and do “not appear to be based on evidence.”

The letter calls on Lebouthillier to accept the certifications of physicians regarding their patients and to work with Diabetes Canada to ensure that those who qualify for the tax credit have rightful access to it.

The CRA Is Denying The Disability Tax Credit To Some With Disabilities

There are issues that the CRA can, and should, address immediately, such as amending eligibility criteria to better align with the Income Tax Act.

01/24/2018 – Huff Post

“Providing benefits not burdens” is how former Health Minister, Judy LaMarsh once described the vision for disability policy in Canada.

Unfortunately, this vision is not a reality when it comes to one of the main benefits open to Canadians with disability: the federal Disability Tax Credit (DTC.) Administered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the DTC is designed to recognize some of the higher costs faced by people with severe disabilities and their caregivers.

Yet reports from Autism Canada and disability groups across the country suggest recent CRA decisions have resulted in people diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability having their eligibility to the DTC suddenly revoked or denied, against the CRA’s own rules.

This is unsettling news for families caring for children with disability, given three in four children with disability identify as having a cognitive or mental health-related disability. This issue goes beyond the credit itself, given that DTC eligibility is frequently used for access to additional federal and provincial disability benefits.

Revoking DTC eligibility means a family with a child with a severe disability can no longer receive up to $2730 through the Child Disability Benefit, and $4000 or more in federal and provincial disability-related tax credits, depending on income and where they live.

They also must close their child’s Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSP), forfeiting contributions from the government of up to $70,000 over the lifetime of the plan.

We commend the recent announcement by Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier that a Disability Advisory Committee will be reinstated next year. The committee’s mandate of advising on the CRA’s administration and interpretation of laws and programs relating to disability tax measures is sorely needed, as are efforts to improve awareness of the DTC and related benefits.

However, the committee has its work cut out for it. Recent concerns about people having their DTC eligibility revoked are only the tip of the iceberg.

Research tells us the DTC is already underutilized, meaning most Canadians with qualifying disabilities are not accessing the described benefits and credits. Of those who do claim the credit on their tax returns in any given year, only half of all claimants (including caregivers) actually receive value from the DTC.

In addition to awareness, three major barriers to accessing the DTC need to be addressed.

Firstly, the DTC is a non-refundable tax credit, which means that the credit itself is only valuable to those earning enough taxable income. This means it would be of little or no direct benefit to the one in five families in Canada with a child with a severe disability living in low income.

Secondly, eligibility criteria are poorly operationalized. Criteria have been criticized for lacking clarity, being open to interpretation, failing to accurately reflect the practicalities of living with a disability and requiring people with impairments in mental functions to meet a higher bar than for those with physical impairments. The CRA have even departed from wording in the Income Tax Act in tests of impairment in the DTC application form, which can impact whether a person receives DTC eligibility or not.

Finally, the application process is burdensome. The CRA’s public consultations in 2014 demonstrated that the application process was not user-friendly, resulting in a shorter form. However, access to help and information from the CRA has been reduced in recent years, with the Auditor General findings this month showing that two in three calls to the CRA’s call centers go unanswered.

The absence of a clear and transparent appeals process is also a problem.

Consequently, some seek paid professional support to access the tax credit, including people with limited resources to spare. Third-party companies to help people apply for the DTC, many with hefty fees, are commonly used, necessitating laws to limit the amount they could charge applicants (something else that’s been on the government “to do” list for years.)

The good news is that these are problems an empowered and transparent DAC can advise on. But this is a lot to take on for a committee of 12 voluntary unpaid members meeting three times a year.

The CRA is the gatekeeper to several key federal disability benefits underutilized by eligible Canadians. There are issues that the CRA can, and should, address immediately, such as amending eligibility criteria to better align with the Income Tax Act.

It is time the federal government started taking this seriously.

Liberals hitting diabetes patients with tax grab, Conservatives and health groups say

October 22, 2017 – Global News

OTTAWA – Health groups joined forces on Sunday with the Conservative opposition to accuse the Liberal government of trying to raise tax revenue on the backs of vulnerable diabetics.

The accusation opened a new front in the ongoing opposition-waged war on government taxation policy, amid the backdrop of the conflict-of-interest controversy dogging Finance Minister Bill Morneau over whether he’s properly distanced himself from millions of dollars of private sector assets.

Diabetes Canada was among the groups that joined Conservative politicians to publicly denounce what they say is a clawback of a long-standing disability tax credit to help them manage a disease that can cost the average sufferer $15,000 annually.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre branded it as one more example of an out-of-touch Liberal government that he characterized as unfairly targeting the hardworking middle class people it claims to support.

“His tax department tried to tax the employee discounts of waitresses and cashiers. Now his government is targeting vulnerable people suffering with diabetes with thousands of dollars in tax increases,” Poilievre said on Sunday at a Parliament Hill news conference flanked by fellow Conservative critics, a young diabetic constituent and a top official with a leading diabetes advocacy organization.

In May, the revenue department stopped approving a disability tax credit for people with Type 1 diabetes for those who had previously claimed it, he said.

People who need more than 14 hours per week for insulin therapy, and had a doctor’s certification previously qualified. But other than citing a spike in applications for the benefit, the government offered no explanation for the change during initial interactions earlier this spring, said Kimberley Hanson of Diabetes Canada.

Thousands of claimants from across Canada who had previously been given the $1,500 annual benefit have been rejected in recent months, but Hanson said she can’t get an exact number from Canadian Revenue Agency and has had to file an Access to Information request to find out.

In recent months, the agency officials and Minister Diane Lebouthillier have for the most part rebuffed their overtures.

“Over the past two months, she’s stopped responding to my messages and answering some of my questions,” Hanson said, referring to one senior department official.

On Saturday, a senior department official reached out to her to reopen dialogue, she said. Poilievre said that only happened because the matter was raised briefly on Friday by the Conservatives during Question Period.

The minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

“Applicants are now being denied on the basis that ‘the type of therapy indicated does not meet the 14 hour per week criteria.’ These denials are in contradiction of the certifications provided by licensed medical practitioners and do not appear to be based on evidence,” says an Oct. 3 letter to Lebouthillier, signed by Diabetes Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism and two other organizations.

This latest complaint about the government’s tax policy comes after the Liberals were forced to reset proposed tax measures after weeks of vocal opposition from small business owners, doctors, farmers and backbench Liberal MPs.

The Canada Revenue Agency was also recently forced to withdraw a notice that targeted employee discounts after it caused an uproar.

“It’s not like I can snap a finger and this disease turns off,” said Madison Ferguson, a constituent of Poilievre’s who first raised it with her MP this summer after her claim was rejected.

She said she has to constantly calculate the effect of what she eats, while monitoring her blood sugar levels as much as four to 10 times a day, using test strips that cost $1.50 to $2 each time.

“It’s quite expensive but it’s needed because without this I wouldn’t be here,” said Ferguson. “So every moment of every day has to be calculated.”

 

Ottawa accused of new tax grab after disability tax credit clawback hits those with mental illness

Sources say that some lifelong sufferers of mental disabilities have been cut off from the disability tax credit after having received the credit for decades

October 26, 2017 – Financial Post

 

OTTAWA — Sufferers of autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental health issues are the latest victims of a clampdown on access to the disability tax credit by the Canada Revenue Agency, according to several accountants, mental health associations and other advocacy groups.

Sources told the National Post that some lifelong sufferers of mental disabilities have been cut off from the disability tax credit, or DTC, in the past two or three years after having received the credit for decades.

The statements come after an uproar in Ottawa earlier this week over restricted access to the DTC for sufferers of diabetes, which caused a firestorm of accusations toward the Trudeau Liberals from the opposition NDP and Conservatives. The Liberals have in recent months faced widespread criticism over proposed tax changes directed at private corporations.

Advocates say similarly restricted access to the DTC has occurred for mentally disabled people, largely due to a change in the language used to determine whether they are adequately disabled to be eligible for the tax credit. That has led to a higher number of people appealing rejections for DTC funding, advocates and tax consultants say.

“What the CRA has done is set that bar so high that it is almost impossible for people to apply,” said Lembi Buchanan, head of the Disability Tax Fairness Campaign.

Weissman and Buchanan are both currently lobbying to reintroduce the Disability Advisory Committee, a body that used to monitor CRA’s access to tax credits for mentally and physically challenged people that was scrapped by the Harper government in 2006.

The pair has asked to reinstate the DAC through letters to the Department of Finance. The department said in response in a June 02, 2016 letter that it was “seriously considering” comments from Canadians about improving CRA access to tax credits, but hasn’t yet brought back the committee.

Observers say part of the trouble for mentally disabled people is that their DTC eligibility often expires without the person’s knowledge, usually without a notice letter warning them to reapply. After reapplication, many are denied and then forced to appeal the CRA decision.

The number of people going into appeals has increased a lot,” said Ella Huang, the executive director of the Richmond Centre for Disability in B.C.

Huang said the number of people being rejected for DTC funding has risen from roughly one in 10 to something closer to five in 10, though she stressed that it was difficult to put hard numbers on the levels of reapplications and rejections. The Richmond Centre assists disabled people in applying for tax credits like the DTC.

Observers say that people who are deemed ineligible for the DTC also lose access to the registered disability savings plan (RDSP), a program introduced by former finance minster Jim Flaherty in 2008.

Losing access to the plan means that recipients of the DTC often have to pay back government grants and bonds that were awarded when they were deemed eligible for the credit.

Tim Ames, the executive director of Vancouver-based Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network, said one family was forced to pay back as much as $15,000 in bonds and government grants after the death of their autistic son.

“It’s a very stressful thing for families to have to go through,” Ames said.

PLAN supports about 65 families with mentally disabled members, and helps roughly 500 mentally disabled people every year apply for the DTC through its hotline.

Ames said the CRA has issued an increasingly high number of “secondary assessment forms” to ask receivers of DTC funding to resubmit their credentials for the credit, but said there appears to be little consistency in which recipients are asked to reapply.

“It seems to be very arbitrary, there doesn’t seem to be a system behind it.”

CRA to review disability tax credit applications after backlash from diabetics

Dec 08, 2017 – CBC News

After months of criticism and accusations it lied to disability advocates, the Canada Revenue Agency is reverting to a previous interpretation of a tax credit used by diabetics and will review applications denied since May 2017.

Liberal MP Kamal Khera, the parliamentary secretary for the minister of national revenue, said the government is sorry for the confusion.

“When there’s an apology due we do apologize,” Khera told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

When asked if something went wrong, she said yes.

Since the spring, people with Type 1 diabetes have complained that they have been turned down for the disability tax credit — even if they had been approved in previous years.

To qualify for the credit, the CRA requires adults with Type 1 diabetes to spend at least 14 hours a week on activities, specified by the agency, related to administering insulin.

A patient’s physician must confirm those hours to the CRA.

Diabetes Canada and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation obtained an internal CRA memo, dated May 2, 2017, that says: “Unless there are exceptional circumstances, adults with diabetes can generally manage their daily insulin therapy without taking 14 hours per week.”

In a briefing with reporters Friday morning, officials said the CRA will return to using the pre-May 2017 clarification letter for disability tax applications, but reiterated that “no change has been made to the eligibility criteria.”

It will also proactively review denied applications where the CRA relied on that revised clarification letter to determine eligibility.

The CRA says individuals do not need to submit new or additional information unless they are contacted by the agency.

In the meantime, a new disability committee will come up with recommendations going forward.

Advisory committee will advise CRA

Kimberley Hanson of Diabetes Canada said her group started asking questions and the CRA denied there were any substantial changes.

“I consider that the CRA lied to us in not admitting they sent this email May 2nd and pretending that they were shocked that there had been a change and that it was impacting so many people,” she said.

On Friday, she said she welcomes the news and urged the government to act quickly to review the claims.

National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier has faced questions recently in the House of Commons about the increase in denied applications. At the time, she said there has been no change in the criteria used to assess people with Type 1 diabetes

The opposition asked the minister about the advocacy groups’ memo in question period earlier this week and accused her of misleading the House when she said nothing has changed.

In response, Lebouthillier reiterated her argument that the criteria haven’t changed and that, in fact, approvals for the disability tax credit have increased 20 per cent between 2014 and 2016.

However, those numbers do not take into account the changes since May 2, 2017. Diabetes Canada says in 2017 so far, denials of the disability tax credit for the life-sustaining therapy category under which Type 1 diabetics fall, has spiked 70 per cent.

The government also fleshed out more details about its plans to set up a disability advisory committee. The panel will consult with stakeholders and advise the department on policies like the disability tax credit,

The committee, co-chaired by CRA assistant commissioner Frank Vermaeten and Dr. Karen Cohen, chief executive of the Canadian Psychological Association, will make recommendations, but it will be up to the minister and her team to decide to implement them or not.

It will meet three times a year and will publish routine public reports, said officials.

The other 12 voluntary members include:

  • Sherri Torjman, former vice-president, Caledon Institute of Social Policy, from Ontario.
  • Laurier Beachell, Baker Law, from Manitoba.
  • Gary Birch, Neil Squire Foundation, from British Columbia.
  • Dr. Jeff Blackmer, Canadian Medical Association, from Ontario.
  • Lembi Buchanan, Coalition for Disability Tax Credit Reform, from British Columbia.
  • Michael Edgson, RBC Financial, from British Columbia.
  • Roberta Heale, Nurses Practitioner Association of Canada, from Ontario.
  • James Hicks, Council of Canadians with Disabilities, from Manitoba.
  • Emily Johnson, Diabetes Canada, from Manitoba.
  • Wendall Nicholas, Wabanaki Council on Disability, from New Brunswick.
  • Véronique Vézina, COPHAN, from Quebec.
  • Karen Wiwchar, H&R Block Canada, from Alberta.

The CRA makes it so hard to get the disability tax credit, many don’t even try

January 11, 2018 – Global News

Only 40 per cent of the more than 1.8 million people who live with severe disability in Canada use the federal disability tax credit (DTC). And the mind-numbing rules devised by the Canada Revenue Agency to assess eligibility for the credit are likely one of the main reasons for such poor uptake.

That’s the conclusion of a recent review of the credit by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, which also cites low awareness of the credit and limited understanding of its potential benefits as possible causes for low participation rates.

Canadians with disabilities have to pay a physician or other qualified health professional to certify that they require “life-sustaining therapy” administered at least three times a week, for a total of at least 14 hours a week. Alternatively, doctors and nurses must attest that patients are “markedly restricted in performing a basic activity of daily living all or substantially all of the time, or that the cumulative effect of restrictions across several activities is equal to being markedly restricted in one basic activity of daily living,” write authors Stephanie Dunn and Jennifer Zwicker.

If that made your head spin, you’re not alone. Even doctors often can’t make heads or tails of it, the report suggests. In fact, some health professionals are refusing to fill out the forms, particularly for mental health patients, for which the criteria for eligibility are even stricter, the study says referencing recent media reports.

Doctors who do take a stab at completing the forms have different interpretations of what the guidelines mean, which may result in some eligible patients wrongly being denied access to the credit, the report continues.

And even when physicians fill out applications certifying the eligibility of their patients, they may receive puzzling or inconsistent feedback from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

Prior research has also raised concerns about “inconsistencies in how applications are reviewed, whether those reviewing applications are qualified to do so, opaque internal review, reconsideration and appeals processes, and the withholding of documentary evidence by the CRA during appeals processes,” write Dunn and Zwicker.

But the ordeal doesn’t necessarily end there. In many cases, even Canadians who are officially deemed eligible for the DTC must reapply for it after a period of time, even if their disability is a severe and lifelong condition.

The CRA’s check-the-box approach to assessing disability isn’t working on a number of levels, the report suggests.

For example, CRA guidelines require that impairment due to mental illness be present continuously for 90 per cent of the time.

But this doesn’t fit with the nature of mental health disabilities, which are often “temporary, episodic and changing in nature, with symptoms varying in severity and duration over the course of peoples’ lives,” the Schizophrenia Society of Ontariowrote in a 2014 submission to the CRA.

Another perplexing outcome is the CRA’s recent move to deny the DTC to many Canadians with diabetes on the basis that time spent receiving therapy from a portable insulin pump or counting carbohydrates, which is essential for calculating insulin dosage, doesn’t count as life-sustaining therapy.

Global News reporting into the diabetes controversy found that one possible reason for the higher reported DTC denials is the fact that the CRA at some point (it’s unclear when), stopped relying on input from registered nurses in the approval process, meaning that a medical professional isn’t necessarily involved in reviewing the applications anymore once they reach the CRA.

Opaque and inconsistent feedback

Sometimes, filing a DTC application can feel like dropping a bunch of paperwork into a black hole.

Rachel Martens, a full-time caregiver in Calgary, has had two radically different experiences with the tax credit. Her now 11-year old son, who suffers from a rare chromosome disorder, was swiftly approved about a decade ago. But Martens’ sister, who has been diagnosed with a chronic pain disorder called trigeminal neuralgia, is still waiting on a CRA assessment two years after submitting her application in 2015.

So far, Martens, who acts as her sister’s caregiver, has only received one letter from the CRA about a year ago advising that her sibling’s case needed further examination.

It’s been silence ever since, and Martens said she has not been able to get further assistance over the phone.

“It’s been intensely frustrating,” she told Global News.

Both suffer from rare conditions associated with high mortality rates, she said, adding that she felt “frustrated over a lack of standard.”

The Liberal government’s recent reinstatement of the Disability Advisory Committee (DAC), which will bring together stakeholders and CRA officials, is a “promising step” toward improving accessibility to the DTC, write Dunn and Zwicker. But the system needs a much broader shake up.

DTC is key to receiving other disability benefits

The DTC itself is a non-refundable tax credit that lowers or eliminates the tax bill for Canadians living with disability and their caregivers, who often struggle with both higher living expenses and lower income.

But being approved for the DTC is also a precondition for accessing a number of others — often more financially significant — benefits, the University of Calgary study notes. Among them are the Child Disability Benefit and government contributions to the Registered Disability Savings Plans.

Overall, the DTC and linked benefits are worth up to $12,000 a year for a median-income family and $7,600 for an adult with a severe disability making $45,000 in annual income, the authors calculate.

Essentially, said Martens, the “DTC is the gateway to everything.”

That it can be so elusive to gain eligibility is “an intimidation factor” for families, she added.