The Canada Emergency Response Benefit – What if CRA wants it back?
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) has injected billions of dollars into the pockets of millions of Canadians, to help the country endure the COVID-19 pandemic. It is one of the most ambitious social welfare programs Canada has ever seen, and has certainly been a contributing factor in the country’s success in stopping the spread of the virus. Without the benefit, Canadians would be less likely to be able to pay their rent, stay in their homes and practice social distancing. Many would seek employment despite the virus to support their families. The CERB has provided some stability amidst great uncertainty.
Canada Emergency Response Benefit – Eligibility
It seems eligibility for the benefit has expanded every week. At first only those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 were eligible after meeting other criteria. Then it was expanded to include those with reduced hours and pay. Students and seasonal workers struggling to find work were included after, followed by artists, farmers, and more. It is getting harder to know who is not eligible for the benefit anymore.
This is partly by design. In the current stage, the benefit’s eligibility has been set up as a catch-all system. Following the pandemic the government will take stock and determine who was not actually eligible. Therefore, determining eligibility today based on government statements and reports is difficult; they have not clarified the categories of persons who would be ineligible in recent weeks. Recently there are news reports of individuals that have been claiming the CERB when they are not eligible. While some are doing so intentionally, many are accidental, as the eligibility criteria for the CERB has become increasingly complicated over time.
We would like to help fill the gap. If you match any of the descriptions below, you are almost certainly not eligible for the CERB and may be penalized following the pandemic.
If you are currently employed and are receiving the same salary as before the crisis, you are not eligible. The benefit is intended to help those that do not have a paycheque, or have seen their pay or hours sharply reduced. If you are employed and are making the same salary, then the CERB is not for you.
If you quit your job and are unemployed for reasons unrelated to COVID-19, you are not eligible for the CERB. One of the most important criteria for the CERB is that the need for assistance must be as a result of the pandemic. One cannot quit their job to take time off work, rest, take up a hobby, and then claim CERB. It is presumed that those individuals are not suffering from the lack of a paycheque because they already planned to live without earning a salary, and are therefore not in need of assistance.
Those who Receive Government Benefits and do not meet the Employment income threshold
Benefits received from the government prior to the pandemic do not count as part of your income calculation for determining if you earned enough to be eligible for the CERB ($5000 since Jan 1, 2019). The income calculation must incorporate employment or self-employment income. For example, someone living solely on disability would not be eligible, as they are already receiving support from the government. That individual’s source of income from the government has not been effected by COVID-19, so they are not eligible for CERB.
In essence, in determining your eligibility, the question that must be asked is whether your employment or income has genuinely been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. If it has not, you are likely not eligible for the CERB.
What if I have received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit but I am not entitled to it?
If you are ineligible and received the CERB, the CRA will have grounds to investigate, audit, and assess you. Following an assessment the CRA will attempt to collect on the funds, plus interest and penalties. The interest and penalties accumulate quickly, and can transform into a minor debt into one that is much more substantial. The CRA could also pursue legal action in order to collect on the debt, such as garnishing wages or placing a lien on your property as security until the tax is paid.
If you are a CERB recipient but have doubts regarding your eligibility, please feel free to contact our firm for a free consultation. We have extensive experience managing CRA collections, and ensuring that no legal action takes place against you. We can assist in creating a plan of action in order to avoid the worst consequences of owing a debt to the CRA. We are here to help! In the meantime, we will continue to keep you informed and hope you and your families remain safe and healthy in these uncertain times!
This article provides information of a general nature only. It does not provide legal advice nor can it or should it be relied upon. All tax situations are specific to their facts and will differ from the situations in this article. If you have specific legal questions you should consult a lawyer.
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