CRA warns 213,000 Canadians that they might have to pay back CERB overpayments

The Canada Revenue Agency says it’s warning about 213,000 Canadians who may have been paid twice through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program that they could be called upon to repay the money.

But repayment isn’t required right away, says the agency. The CRA has suspended collection of debts for the duration of the pandemic emergency.

“The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has issued letters to individuals who may have applied for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) from both Service Canada and the CRA, and who may be required to repay an amount to the CRA,” a CRA spokesperson said in an email. “The letters did not require immediate payment; rather they informed the taxpayer that there may be a requirement to repay amounts received.

“We will resume collections activities when it is responsible to do so, including collection of debts related to CERB payments,”

The CRA was responding to CBC’s question about individuals being asked to repay pandemic benefits. The agency says it is still recommending that people pay back any CERB funds to which they’re not entitled by the end of the year, warning that if they don’t, the sum will appear on T4A tax slips and will need to be reported as income on next year’s tax return.

‘An honest mistake’

In emails to CBC News about possible repayments, CRA was careful to avoid suggesting that all those who received letters warning they might have to repay CERB money had been caught in any kind of unethical behaviour.

A CRA spokesperson noted that “applicants may make an honest mistake when applying” for CERB.

It’s also possible that some of those who have received letters about repayment already had returned the money voluntarily, or had incorrectly repaid the money to Service Canada instead of the CRA, the spokesperson said.

According to the latest figures, 945,000 pandemic benefit repayments — including for CERB and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit — have been conducted through the CRA’s My Account online portal. The large number has been blamed on confusion over how to apply for the benefits in the early days of the pandemic.

Last week, a Conservative MP raised concerns about CRA figures indicating more than 800,000 non-tax filers had received CERB payments. But several economists were quick to point out that Canadians can qualify for CERB even if they haven’t previously filed taxes — and only people who owe money to the CRA are required to file a return.

For Canadians who do have to return some pandemic benefits, the CRA says it can come up with individual arrangements based on their ability to pay.

In cases where the CRA can’t come to such an arrangement with a taxpayer, it would turn to collections measures. Those measures remain on hold during the pandemic but they could include taking away future tax credits and refunds or garnishing wages, a spokesperson said.

The CRA also has warned Canadians to be aware of CERB repayment scams, including texts, emails or phone calls that appear to come from the CRA and ask for money or personal information.

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