Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to speak to Bill C-462. The purpose, obviously, is to restrict the level of fees that can be charged by promoters of the disability tax credit.
Since 2005, disabled Canadians have been able to claim this credit retroactively for up to 10 years, which can result in significant lump sum payments. Reports of consultants exploiting disabled Canadians and charging exorbitant and in some cases extortionate contingency fees in connection with these large, retroactive claims provide some of the reasoning behind the bill. Disabled Canadians ought to be protected from exploitation, clearly. Consultants who abuse the system and commit fraud ought to be punished under the law, so I support the intent of the bill.
I do have some reservations. My biggest concern is that the legislation may have identified the wrong problem, because while the bill establishes the need for introducing penalties against fraudulent consultants and protection for those exploited, a key question ought to be asked. Why do these consultants exist in the first place? It could be argued that the reason they exist is that there is a need created by an application process that is too complex, and that governments have failed to provide disabled Canadians with the resources they need to fill out the forms themselves. This is also in the context of times when we are cutting government and front-line services, which could actually help disabled Canadians complete these forms.
If the government is serious about helping disabled Canadians and stopping the alleged proliferation of these consultants, it ought to simplify the disability tax credit application process, and hire and train government workers in sufficient quantity and with sufficient expertise to help Canadians who have questions and need help with this process. This way more disabled Canadians who are entitled to these benefits would be able to fill out the forms themselves, and that would eradicate the need for these consultants in the first place.
The legislation in its current format does not address this central point, so I emphasize that I support the intent of Bill C-462 and recognize the importance of protecting innocent Canadian citizens from exploitation by consultants who abuse the system and charge usurious fees for their services.
I will outline a few of my reservations. First and foremost, there is a lack of information and detail within Bill C-462, and that is quite often the situation with private members' bills. Private members do not have the same kind of legislative or research capacity in working to develop legislation that, for instance, governments have.
However, the legislation in its current format does not specify what the maximum fees would be or how they would be set. That would be defined, perhaps, in the other place or perhaps in the regulatory process. Surely this ought to be a key element of the legislation as the aim is to restrict fees.
This vacuum of information leaves a number of questions unanswered and potential unintended consequences. For instance, how does the government propose to measure the fees? What services would be covered? What services would fall outside of the maximum fee structure? Would the maximum fee be set as a percentage of the tax credit or as a percentage of the tax refund, or would the maximum be set in absolute terms? Is the maximum to be set as a percentage of the tax benefit? How many years would be factored in or count towards that maximum? Would it be just the year of the application or would the government consider the value of the benefit over a number of years, for instance, the net present value of that future revenue stream? In setting the maximum fee, would the government differentiate between different applications, such as whether they are complicated, time-consuming or taken to appeals? If so, how would the government make that differentiation?
With some applicants claiming retroactively for up to 10 years, there could be complications within their application. The maximum fees set out in the regulations ought to reflect the complexity of the case in hand. The industry may be too complicated for a one-size-fits-all policy and the maximum fee structure ought to be set in an open and transparent process with a broad range of stakeholders.
Second, qualifying for the disability tax credit also qualifies people for other programs such as the registered disability savings program. Once they receive a disability tax credit certificate, they can remain eligible for the tax credit for several years. Therefore, the maximum fee structure that only considers the value of the refund for one year may not reflect the actual value that the applicant places on qualifying for the additional disability tax credit certificate.
For this point, let me illustrate with one potential example. Let us consider the amount of a disability tax credit in 2013 for an adult. That would be 15% of $7,546, which would be $1,131.90. Therefore, if the government is not willing to simplify the complex application process for disabled Canadians, some will continue to depend on the expertise of consultants. If the 5% fee cap is introduced, as has been suggested, the maximum amount a disabled Canadian could pay for expertise in applying for the tax credit could be as little as $56.60. However, the real reason the applicant may want to qualify for the disability tax credit is to be eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in RDSP bonds and matching grants from the government. Regardless of the amount people are likely to receive from just this one disability tax refund, some will take their claim to the appeals process in order to gain access to all these other programs and benefits.
Poor regulations that could flow potentially from Bill C-462, regulations that would have a narrow view of the tax credit, could have some unintended consequences, for instance, of preventing disabled Canadians the help they need to access government programs. We should acknowledge that there are businesses which provide very legitimate and valuable services to help disabled Canadians access these programs. I have heard from some of these types of operators who have certainly convinced me that what they are doing is legitimate and they are concerned that potential unintended consequences could render their businesses unprofitable if we did not consider some of their concerns in the design of this legislation. Again, I believe these are legitimate businesses.
The regulations under Bill C-462 must ensure that these legitimate businesses remain financially viable under this model. We must not punish these legitimate businesses because of the exploitative actions of some of the other operators who are taking advantage of this system.
One of the key reasons for the hiring of consultants, again, is the complex application process, which leads me to a point that right now the process is so complex that some Canadians feel like the only option available to them is to hire a consultant to guide them through. Therefore, we ought to make it easier for legitimate applicants to access the program themselves. After all, it is a program to which they ought to be entitled and, as such, why should they need an outside consultant simply to deal with their own government and access a program for which they qualify? The government should streamline the application process. It should hire and train more government workers who can answer the questions and help disabled Canadians apply for these credits themselves.
This is not just an issue of disabled Canadians and their interface with government. We have gone toward more automation, less personal interaction, less individually tailored services for Canadians dealing with their government and this is something we have to consider for seniors and for disabled Canadians.
In summary, we agree that disabled Canadians need to be protected from exploitation, but we also believe that there are other things the government could do through simplifying the process and ensuring that we have front line public servants who are providing these services and helping disabled Canadians interface with the government and access the programs not only to which they are entitled, but the programs they need.