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Taxpayer remedies before the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman and the Québec Ombudsman

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This is a follow-up to an earlier article dealing with filing a complaint with the tax authorities. In this article, we discuss the possible remedies available to taxpayers who still feel wronged following a decision made in respect of their complaint. In such cases, taxpayers can refer to the Québec Ombudsman or the federal Taxpayers’ Ombudsman. These autonomous bodies operate at arm’s length from tax authorities.

1. What are the respective mandates of these two bodies?

The Québec Ombudsman’s mission is to prevent and correct cases of rights infringement, abuse, negligence, inaction or errors by institutions within the health network or by Quebec government departments or agencies. Since the Agence du revenu du Québec (ARQ) is a Quebec government agency, the Québec Ombudsman can investigate complaints filed against it. The Québec Ombudsman reports to the National Assembly.

The mandate of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman is to assist, advise and inform the Minister of National Revenue about any matter relating to services provided by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). To fulfill this mandate, the Ombudsman adheres to the following four principles: independence from the CRA, impartiality between taxpayers and the CRA, fairness and confidentiality. The Taxpayers’ Ombudsman reports to the Minister of National Revenue.

2. When to resort to these bodies?

The Québec Ombudsman deals with taxpayer complaints relating to the ARQ’s lack of fairness and citizens’ inalienable right to be heard.

The federal Taxpayers’ Ombudsman investigates service-related complaints from taxpayers who feel they were mistreated by the CRA. Its mandate also includes identifying and examining systemic and emerging issues related to the CRA’s services. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights sets out the rights of taxpayers and what they can expect when dealing with the CRA. Possible reasons for complaints include undue delays, poor or misleading information, staff behaviour and mistakes that can potentially result in a misunderstanding or omission.

It’s important to remember that the complaint process is not a substitute for an objection or an appeal before the courts. The fact that you have lodged a complaint with either Ombudsman does not change the deadline for filing an objection to a notice of assessment or suspend the tax authorities’ collection measures—in other words, they are complementary procedures.

3. How to use their services?

Before calling on the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman or the Québec Ombudsman, a complaint must first be filed with the tax authorities. Taxpayers must ensure that they have all the required information (including supporting documentation) respecting their complaint.

The complaint will be easier to process if the taxpayer retains the name of the tax representatives they dealt with, the date and time of the exchanges, as well as a summary of the comments made and results obtained. In addition, copies of all documents related to the complaint should be conserved.

You can file a complaint with the Québec Ombudsman using a secure online form or by faxing or mailing the form.

Similarly, the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman has a complaint form which can be filed online, mailed or faxed. If you have difficulty completing the form, you can contact the Office of the Ombudsman directly for assistance. Be sure to properly fill out Section 4 of the form (Consent to disclose information); otherwise, this could impact the Ombudsman’s ability to resolve the complaint.

4. Who can lodge a complaint?

The services of the Québec Ombudsman are available to “any person or group of people, organization or company, among others.” As you can see, the definition of complainant is very broad.

Under the federal Taxpayer Bill of Rights, taxpayers include individuals, businesses, benefit recipients and charities.

5. What measures can these bodies take?

The mission of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman and the Québec Ombudsman is to conduct independent and impartial reviews of complaints. They each have investigative powers to gather relevant information.

Once the Québec Ombudsman has concluded its investigation, it can reject the taxpayer’s complaint or issue recommendations to rectify the situation. According to the Québec Ombudsman, 98% of its recommendations are approved. Any agency that does not act upon the Ombudsman’s recommendations will have to explain why it didn’t do so.

The Taxpayers’ Ombudsman will share its conclusions with both the taxpayer and the CRA in an impartial manner. The Ombudsman can make recommendations and do follow-ups. For example, it can recommend that the CRA offers an apology, changes a policy, corrects a misunderstanding, gives further reasons for a decision, reviews its service standards or makes changes to its systems. According to the Ombudsman, as of 2013, 100% of the recommendations issued after investigating systemic service and fairness issues were accepted by the various Ministers of National Revenue.

Note that the Québec Ombudsman and the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman cannot change any decisions made by the agencies concerned or issue directives to their staff. Disputes are settled through consultation and negotiation.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, it’s important to remember that there are public bodies operating at arm’s length from the tax authorities that can protect taxpayers’ rights. These are credible and impartial bodies, and taxpayers shouldn’t hesitate to turn to them once other remedies before the tax authorities have been exhausted.

The author wishes to thank Geneviève Charest, CPA, CA, for her help in writing this article.

Louis-Olivier Lavoie, CPA, CA
Senior Manager – Tax

On behalf of the Technical working group on taxation and commodity taxes