Canadians have made 190,000 repayments of the Canada emergency response benefits they weren’t eligible for, according to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
CRA spokesman Christopher Doody said the CRA acted quickly to deliver emergency aid programs to Canadians in need and designed the application for the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) as an attestation-based system, similar to the tax-filing process.
CERB provides monthly, taxable payments of $2,000 for up to four months to Canadians who lost income because of COVID-19.
The CRA can verify the claimant’s information at the time of filing or at a later date, with safeguards and controls enabling closer scrutiny of some files.
When a claimant is found to be ineligible, they are contacted to make arrangements to repay an amount.
The CRA has information on its website to explain how people can repay the CERB, and Doody said that as of June 3, nearly 190,000 payments were made through the portal.
Doody said the CRA is also digging into 600 tips it received about potential abuse of CERB and other COVID-19 benefits.
If someone suspects a misuse of CERB or any other program, they are encouraged to submit a so-called lead, he said.
Abuse tips reviewed
“Any tips received will be reviewed for validity of the information provided,” Doody said in an email.
The CRA maintains records of who received the benefit and for what period, and says it will take steps at a later time to verify that claimants were eligible to receive benefits. Along with tax slips from employers and other relevant information, CRA will also validate eligibility next tax filing season.
Doody said the vast majority of Canadians are honest, and the CRA has effective systems in place to manage the small number of people who submit fraudulent claims.
“The CRA continues to aggressively pursue tax evasion and fraud with all the tools available to them,” he said.
“The CRA is dedicated to ensuring that individuals receive only those benefits to which they are entitled so that important benefit programs can be administered to those who need them.”
The federal government is facing criticism for proposed changes to the CERB program that were outlined in a draft bill that’s expected to be tabled in the House of Commons today.
The bill lays out penalties for claimants whose applications include information that is false or misleading and for those who knowingly failed to disclose sources of income or other relevant facts when they applied for the federal aid.
An offence could net a fine of up to $5,000, plus a penalty equal to double the amount of the income support claimed or a fine plus a period of imprisonment up to six months, according to the draft bill.
The bill says the government can rescind or reduce the penalty in response to new facts and can issue a warning instead of a penalty.
Under the proposed legislation, Canadians won’t be eligible to claim the benefit if:
- They fail to go back to work when it is reasonable to do so, and their employer asks them to return.
- They fail to resume self-employment when it’s reasonable to do so.
- They decline a reasonable job offer when they are able to work.