Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking today to an important bill, namely Bill C-462, which addresses disability tax credits.
Each year, Canada Revenue Agency receives 200,000 disability tax credit applications. In 2010 alone, the government paid out refunds or assigned non-refundable credits worth $700 million.
A CBC story revealed that promoters were charging exorbitant fees to people asking for help and advice in order to obtain the disability tax credit.
Like many of my colleagues, I will be supporting this bill because I think there should be a limit to the fees charged by disability tax credit promoters. People with disabilities need to be protected so that they do not fall prey to certain promoters' scams.
The member sponsoring this bill hopes to accomplish that by reducing the fees charged by consultants when someone applies for the disability tax credit.
I, for one, feel that this needs to be studied in committee in order to clarify certain clauses of the bill so that they better respond to disabled people's financial goals. Disabled people have said that their most significant tax credit issues are unfortunately not addressed in this bill.
The disability tax credit application process is not entirely transparent, and disabled people have a hard time obtaining the tax credit because of the difficulty they have in filling out the certificate. The process needs to be simplified so that the disabled can have fair and equal access to the tax credit.
The application process is complex, and the tax credit remains very difficult to obtain. In my opinion, we must simplify the application process. Unfortunately, some unethical consultants prey on these people because they know the application process is complex and difficult. The terminology and definitions used in the paperwork are restrictive, unfair and result in inconsistency and discrimination. People find that the process for obtaining the tax credit is difficult, lengthy and overwhelming. They find the form difficult to understand and, consequently, often do not complete the process. They give up because, unfortunately, they often believe that it is pointless.
Eligibility for the credit requires a substantial change that prevents an individual from taking part in basic activities of daily living. I believe that the scope of this tax credit is too narrow, because people dealing with episodic disabilities all too often are not eligible for the tax credit. It is difficult for them to prove that their daily activities are significantly altered by their disability. Some days, they are less affected and they can do certain activities. However, on other days, they are not able to do them at all. The assessment criterion of basic activities of daily living is quite often a problem. The definition is too restrictive and, above all, contradictory. It is not in keeping with provincial and territorial definitions that doctors use, or those of other programs such as the Canada pension plan disability benefits.
The other problem is that it requires understanding and good will on the part of the doctors who must fill out the required forms. They find it very difficult to complete the certificate mainly because some disabilities are very complex and cannot always be assessed based on the definitions of daily activities.
Some people have missed out simply because their doctors gave them incorrect advice, based on an incorrect interpretation of the eligibility criteria. Any kind of family support could make the person ineligible for the tax credit, since this support helps make their lives easier.
Many participants and doctors are seriously questioning the reliability of the eligibility certificate.
This bill will prohibit a promoter from charging or accepting more than the established maximum fee.
A promoter is defined as a person who, directly or indirectly, accepts or charges a fee in respect of a disability tax credit request. I have to wonder how these fees will be determined by the Governor in Council and how the public and promoters will be informed about the tax credit.
An exemption is still possible, but promoters will have to inform the Minister of National Revenue if they are charging more than the maximum. This provision makes me wonder how the minister will determine whether the higher amount is acceptable. Promoters who are found guilty of charging more than the established maximum or of providing false or misleading information to the minister will be liable on summary conviction to a fine ranging from $1,000 to $25,000. These offences will be set out in the Criminal Code and could result in a criminal record.
We are obviously not against all promoters, since many of them have integrity and provide important assistance to the people who could benefit from this credit but who do not understand the eligibility criteria and process, as I mentioned. However, we have some serious concerns about the less scrupulous consultants who tend to try to exploit these people.
In 2005, this government changed the criteria and began offering retroactive tax refunds. So promoters began offering taxpayers their services to help them maximize their refunds. However, some promoters abused the system by charging exorbitant fees for their services. This is quite problematic and certainly unacceptable because these fees can be up to 30% of the tax credit, which can add up to thousands of dollars because this tax credit refund is retroactive.
It is important to prevent promoters from abusing the system, while keeping in mind that not all promoters take advantage of their clients. It is therefore important to make a distinction between promoters who abuse the system and promoters who act as consultants by helping disabled individuals get this tax credit, which they probably would not have received were it not for the help of a promoter.
By limiting these billable fees, the bill will protect disabled individuals from these abuses. It is a good provision, which is why we support this bill.
The Conservatives' budget cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency has made the situation even worse. Unfortunately, disabled individuals now have limited access to certain services that they could have gotten from the Canada Revenue Agency. The situation is utterly appalling.
Last year, I was able to hold one last information session for disabled people in my riding on the disability tax credit, and the Canada Revenue Agency took part. It was unfortunately the last time we were able to provide this service to our constituents because the cuts made to the Canada Revenue Agency will mean that CRA will no longer be able to help us with the information sessions.
I would like to thank my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster, who continues to support us when it comes to this tax credit. He has been providing this information in his riding for several years now. So he is used to these kinds of information sessions, which my colleagues also greatly appreciate.
The assistance that the government is supposed to be offering to Canadians is being jeopardized by the cuts that the government is making to the Canada Revenue Agency. As a result of a lack of resources, the agency will no longer be able to adequately inform the public in question about the tax credit and meet demand by providing information sessions and other services. We are therefore seeking better protection against financial abuse and we want the government to place restrictions on the fees promoters charge people with disabilities. We also believe that additional information is required to make the bill more user-friendly in that regard.
Since my time is up, I would like to say in closing that we will support this bill and will thoroughly examine it in committee in order to improve it.