Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-462, An Act restricting the fees charged by promoters of the disability tax credit and making consequential amendments to the Tax Court of Canada Act. This is an important issue for me. I think that a significant part of the work I do as a member of Parliament is to ensure that my constituents receive at the very least the government services they are entitled to.
I would like to provide a brief background as to why we have reached this point. The non-refundable tax credit allocated to persons with disabilities can go up to $1,380 per year. It is given to people with a severe and prolonged impairment of physical or mental functions. This amount includes a supplement for persons under 18 years of age. To be eligible, persons with disabilities must have a form filled out by a health care professional such as a doctor, optometrist, audiologist, occupational therapist, psychologist or speech therapist. This form may be submitted at any time.
In 2005, the government changed the eligibility criteria for the disability tax credit by allowing the tax credit to be claimed retroactively. At that time, promoters started offering services to taxpayers in order to help them maximize their tax credit and refund. It later became clear that some unscrupulous promoters were abusing the system by making false entries in order to maximize the fees they could charge their clients. In addition to false entries, there are cases where promoters charged their clients fees equal to up to 30% of the refund. It is despicable that these people are profiting from the misery of the most vulnerable in this way.
Basically, there are two problems: the misleading entries and the high fees charged by promoters to fill out the disability tax credit request. Bill C-462 addresses the first problem by prohibiting promoters from charging more than an established maximum fee, which will be established by the Governor in Council. The bill also addresses the problem of fraud by establishing that any promoter who makes false or deceptive entries will be subject to fines ranging from $1,000 to $25,000. These are offences under the Criminal Code and can lead to a criminal record.
Although I support this bill, which seeks to crack down on fraud and set fee ceilings for those who help people with disabilities claim these tax credits, I would like to point out the irony of this situation. The question we should be asking ourselves is this: why do vulnerable people have to call upon this type of specialist to receive a tax credit?
I think that the disability tax credit application process is simply too complex. It is not right that taxpayers, particularly those living below the poverty line, have to turn to tax experts, accountants, tax preparers or other third parties in order to have access to the money that the government owes them.
In committee, Dr. Karen Cohen, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Psychological Association, criticized the complexity of the process for claiming the tax credit. She said:
The Canadian Psychological Association supports this bill....However, it is important to address what might be the underlying cause driving the use of promoters. If it is indeed the lack of clarity for taxpayers and health practitioners, then the criterion certificates themselves should be revised to enhance the fairness of assessments.
Gail Beck, a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Medical Association, proposed amending the form. She said:
We suggest the disability tax credit form be revised to be more informative and user-friendly for patients. Form 2201 should explain more clearly to patients the reason behind the tax credit and explicitly indicate that there is no need to use third-party companies to submit the claim to CRA.
Carmela Hutchison of the DisAbled Women's Network of Canada reminded the committee that the Canadian government needs to do a broader review of tax measures for people with disabilities in order to create greater access and fairness. She proposed the following, and I quote:
Streamlined process and strategy should allow people to have greater access to programs, clear policies, and forms available online to create savings that can be directed to increased benefits and programs for disabled people.
Make the Canada pension plan disability program, disability tax credit, and other federal government forms ones you can save as you work through them.
Review the “other qualified professionals” list of who can sign a disability tax credit application. Prohibit billing above a set amount for forms for any provincial, federal, or municipal government program by either professionals or for-profit companies. Protect people from exploitation and outright financial abuse by ensuring some standards for industry promoters and financial advisors of people with disabilities.
That is quite the list of suggestions, but she is right. Instead of tinkering with legal measures that apply to promoters of the disability tax credit, the government should be conducting a more comprehensive review of the taxation of persons with disabilities.
The red tape people have to cut through to access to the disability tax credit reminds me of the guaranteed income supplement. When I arrived at the House of Commons I was quite shocked to learn that 160,000 seniors who were eligible for the GIS were not receiving any benefits because the Liberals and Conservatives had bothered to contact them.
The problem was identified in 2001, but the government insisted on maintaining its red tape. It is estimated that, for the whole of Canada, this helped the government generate savings of $300 million on the backs of its poorest seniors.
In March 2012, I proposed amendments to the Old Age Security Act to provide for automatic enrollment for the GIS. My bill forced the federal government to take the necessary steps to reach recipients. A few weeks after I introduced my bill, the government finally picked it up and proposed a proactive mechanism to contact eligible seniors.
I am pleased to see that this problem is finally being resolved. If I was part of the solution, then so much the better. Similarly, I think it is time to address the problem of the disability tax credit. It is time to make the application process easier. We could also change the criteria for accessing the program because we hear many horror stories about people with disabilities being victims of dubious administrative decisions.
In October, my colleagues from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel and Burnaby—New Westminster and I organized two information sessions about this. There was a turnout of about 60 people who wanted to learn more about this tax credit. They all complained about how complicated and unclear the process for getting the credit is.
I do not see why people cannot get proper assistance from officials. We see that, more and more, the Conservative government's cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency and other parts of the public service are having a real impact on the services provided to Canadians and those provided in my riding.
Cuts to the public service have two consequences. First, they are felt on the front lines. Eliminating CRA regional program advisor positions jeopardizes information sessions on the disability tax credit. Those information sessions are normally given by public servants. Now NDP members of Parliament are having to take on that job. This sort of thing should not be happening.
Closing Canada Revenue Agency counters throughout the country also penalizes people with disabilities because they often need to meet with an advisor. It is high time the government reviewed its budget cuts and stopped saving money at the expense of the disabled and those most in need.