Calls for tips on false claims for COVID re­lief

Calgary Herald - - NP - CHRISTOPHE­R NARDI

OT­TAWA • The Canada Rev­enue Agency is open­ing up its snitch line to tips about fraud in COVID-19 fed­eral aid pro­grams amid re­ports of il­licit ap­pli­ca­tions and dou­ble-dip­ping.

In an up­date to its web­site Mon­day, Canada Rev­enue Agency says its Na­tional Leads Pro­gram — aka its snitch line — is now ac­cept­ing in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the Canada Emer­gency Re­sponse Ben­e­fit (CERB), the Canada Emer­gency Stu­dent Ben­e­fit (CESB), and the Canada Emer­gency Wage Sub­sidy (CEWS).

The Leads Pro­gram col­lects re­ports of tax cheat­ing such as not declar­ing all in­come, ac­cept­ing “un­der the ta­ble” cash pay­ments or set­ting up a fake busi­ness to claim losses and thus re­duce taxes.

“If you sus­pect a po­ten­tial mis­use of the COVID-19 emer­gency ben­e­fits and pro­grams, the Na­tional Leads Cen­tre is cur­rently ac­cept­ing leads on th­ese pro­grams,” now reads the up­date on the Na­tional Leads Pro­gram web­site.

Specif­i­cally, the agency says it’s look­ing for in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing peo­ple who are re­ceiv­ing ei­ther CERB or CESB who are in­el­i­gi­ble, or busi­nesses or char­i­ties that are “mis­us­ing” the wage sub­sidy pro­gram.

An of­fi­cial at Ser­vice Canada told par­lia­men­tar­i­ans two weeks ago that the depart­ment had iden­ti­fied at least 200,000 dou­ble-dip­pers who had ap­plied and re­ceived twice the amount of CERB they were en­ti­tled to since the be­gin­ning of April.

The de­ci­sion to go af­ter cheaters marks a turn­ing point in the gov­ern­ment’s de­sire to take on fraud in the COVID-19 emer­gency aid pro­grams.

In a state­ment to the Na­tional Post in mid-april, a CRA spokesper­son dis­suaded Cana­di­ans from snitch­ing on po­ten­tially in­el­i­gi­ble CERB re­cip­i­ents. At the time, CRA said its fo­cus was on “get­ting cru­cial (CERB) pay­ments to those who ur­gently need it now.”

“While tax­payer tips do as­sist some of our com­pli­ance ac­tiv­i­ties, we are not ask­ing Cana­di­ans to re­port fel­low Cana­di­ans who have ap­plied for CERB at this time. Those who re­ceived a pay­ment to which they weren’t en­ti­tled will be re­quired to re­pay the amount in due course,” CRA spokesper­son Eti­enne Bi­ram said via email at that time.

Since then, the Na­tional Post has re­ported on a se­ries of in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment memos that told civil ser­vants to process CERB ap­pli­ca­tions even if they sus­pected fraud. One said Em­ploy­ment and So­cial De­vel­op­ment Canada (ESDC) staff should ap­prove pay­ments and not re­fer cases to the Em­ploy­ment In­surance in­tegrity branch if they de­tect po­ten­tial abuse.

An­other set of in­struc­tions told ESDC staff Cana­di­ans should still re­ceive CERB even if records in­di­cate the ap­pli­cant quit vol­un­tar­ily or was fired for pos­si­ble mis­con­duct — seem­ingly in con­tra­dic­tion to the leg­is­la­tion.

Two weeks ago, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau re­sponded that “get­ting that help to the 99 per cent of Cana­di­ans who needed it quickly and rapidly — even if it meant ac­cept­ing that one or two per cent might make fraud­u­lent claims — was the choice that we gladly made” over rig­or­ously check­ing ev­ery ap­pli­ca­tion.

In the Leads Pro­gram web­site up­date, CRA as­sures that some ver­i­fi­ca­tions are done proac­tively to en­sure that CERB, CESB and the wave sub­sidy are paid only to el­i­gi­ble re­cip­i­ents.

Any busi­ness or in­di­vid­ual who is caught re­ceiv­ing money they aren’t en­ti­tled to will be or­dered to re­im­burse it. In the case of the wage sub­sidy, a busi­ness that fal­si­fies doc­u­ments in or­der to claim the ben­e­fit can face penal­ties up to 225 per cent of the amount re­ceived through the pro­gram.

“The CRA and Ser­vice Canada have records of all in­di­vid­u­als who’ve re­ceived pay­ments for the CERB and CESB, and are ver­i­fy­ing to make sure the pay­ments were cor­rectly al­lo­cated. Sim­i­larly, var­i­ous pre-pay­ment ver­i­fi­ca­tions and post-pay­ment re­views are be­ing con­ducted by the CRA for the CEWS,” the agency said.

If some­one wants to snitch on a po­ten­tial fraud­ster, CRA warns that it needs a sub­stan­tial amount of in­for­ma­tion about the sus­pect.

De­pend­ing on the pro­gram they may have falsely claimed, the agency could re­quire de­tails on the sus­pect’s work sit­u­a­tion (CERB and CESB), their school­ing sit­u­a­tion (CESB) or their em­ployer’s num­ber of em­ploy­ees and total pay­roll (CEWS).

Ac­cord­ing to Toby Sanger, direc­tor of Cana­di­ans for Tax Fair­ness, open­ing up the snitch line is a good but small step to­wards de­tect­ing fraud of th­ese bil­lion-dol­lar so­cial aid pro­grams.

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