Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to join the debate. I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot.
The disability tax credit is an important program administered by the CCRA to ensure that eligible Canadians with disabilities receive the tax credits to which they are entitled under the Income Tax Act. Today I want to clear up any confusion about how the CCRA administers this credit and address the concerns that have been raised by members of the House during the debate.
It is important that hon. members understand that the CCRA administers the disability tax credit program according to the very specific legislative criteria of the Income Tax Act. In administering the criteria carefully and professionally, the CCRA ensures these tax credits are provided in an equitable and fair manner. In other words, those who are eligible for the credits will receive them. They are not provided to those who do not qualify.
Let me add that the CCRA, acting on behalf of the Government of Canada in administering this program, makes every attempt at all times to be fair and equitable to all Canadians. That means that we cannot allow DTC claims that do not meet the specific requirements of the Income Tax Act. Our intention is to ensure that there is an even playing field for all Canadians.
An unfortunate common misconception, possibly caused by the credit's name, is that everyone who has a disability qualifies for the disability tax credit. This is manifestly not true.
The Income Act is clear on this matter: to be eligible for the disability tax credit an individual must have a severe and prolonged mental or physical impairment. Furthermore, that mental or physical impairment must have the effect of markedly restricting the individual's ability to perform a basic activity of daily living.
The benefits provided by the government to persons with disabilities has increased by 70% since 1996.
For 2001, the basic non-refundable amount of the disability tax credit has been increased from $4,293 to $6,000, while the supplement has been increased from $2,941 to $3,500. For 2001, the credit can reduce the federal tax of those who qualify by up to $960. For individuals under the age of 18, the maximum federal reduction can increase to $1,520. There is also a corresponding reduction in the provincial tax payable.
There have been questions asked in the House about how the CCRA administers this important benefit. Let me emphasize that the CCRA administers this credit to ensure that it is available for those who need it most. This is not always easy, but the CCRA should be commended for the way it performs this sensitive work. Let me outline some of the processes.
The cost of having form T2201, the disability tax credit certificate, filled out by a medical practitioner is deductible as a medical expense.
Once a client has filed for T2201, the disability tax credit unit at the local tax centre will examine it to determine if the person with the disability meets the eligibility criteria under the Income Tax Act. If the claim is for a dependant, CCRA will also establish whether the claimant meets the support requirements. If a claim is extremely complex and requires medical expertise beyond that at the local tax centre, it is forwarded to a team of medical experts at the national headquarters for review.
Anyone denied a claim for the disability tax credit is entitled to request a review and to appeal the decision in court.
Finally, I want to talk about what the CCRA has done in response to concerns raised about the administration of the disability tax credit and especially the form T2201.
In March 2002 the Subcommittee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities released its report on the disability tax credit. Let me commend the subcommittee and its chair, the hon. member for St. Paul's, on behalf of the Minister of National Revenue, today in the House for the hard work put into preparing this report.
The report expressed concern about the T2201 form used to determine eligibility for this benefit. In response, extensive consultations on administrative matters were initiated by CCRA with organizations representing persons with disabilities and medical practitioners.
As part of those consultations, a new T2201 form for the disability tax credit has been drafted and distributed to all participants and to the subcommittee.
Some members of the opposition have suggested during this debate today that those consultations were a sham. I am dismayed by their willingness to cast aspersion on the very fine public servants conducting the consultations. It is fair to criticize some work the government has done, but not to question the intentions of the officials in conducting broad consultations on their administrative practices.
In fact the CCRA has recognized that it has not quite got it right yet and, in response to concerns expressed by the community, has agreed that it will continue to consult until it gets the form right. The door is still open for consultation.
I am also pleased to inform the House that the Minister of National Revenue has agreed to establish a permanent advisory committee on administrative matters related to disability benefits at CCRA. The minister has also instructed CCRA officials that no new administrative reviews are to take place until these consultations and changes are completed.
In conclusion, let me say that the government recognizes the difficult challenges faced by persons with disabilities. The disability tax credit, as mentioned by my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, is one aspect of the support network offered by the Government of Canada and the provincial governments for Canadians with disabilities.
This credit is aimed specifically at Canadians who suffer from severe and prolonged impairments. It is always difficult when someone is refused a benefit by the government because he or she does not meet the criteria established in the legislation. However CCRA is doing its best to administer this and other programs with as much fairness and transparency as possible and the minister has personally committed to improving the administration of the program.