Volunteer tax clinics: Sign up now for 2017 tax season
Chartered Professional Accountants (CPAs) are avid volunteers. The 2016 Canadian CPA Profession Volunteer Study, conducted by CPA Canada, reports that 58 per cent of members donate their time and skills to serve a variety of important causes. Volunteering gives CPAs rewarding opportunities to apply their professional expertise and make a difference.
About 10 per cent of CPAs say they are interested in giving back by volunteering with a community tax clinic. Because many seniors, immigrants and low-income Canadians risk missing out on federal and provincial tax credits and other benefits, many CPAs help vulnerable Canadians claim these much-needed funds by volunteering with free tax clinics to prepare and file personal tax returns.
But historically, tax clinic programs were inconsistent across the country. Some provincial legacy designations have run extensive programs on their own. Others have encouraged their members to do this work through the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP). Through CVITP partnerships, community organizations across Canada host free tax return preparation clinics with support from the CRA through guidance, training, software and, in some cases, donations of used laptops.
Now the provincial and territorial CPA institutes and the CRA are collaborating not only to bring more consistency to the various provincial programs and the CVITP but also to resolve issues and improve the experience for CPA volunteers nationwide. A task force formed in August 2017 is addressing a number of areas for improvement for the 2017 tax season. For example:
- The CRA’s application form for CVITP volunteers now includes a checkbox for CPAs to self-identify, allowing the CRA to track CPAs’ participation and celebrate the contribution of members.
- The CRA’s CVITP tax preparation software has been enhanced to, among other things, allow for the EFILE of prior-year returns back to 2013 via earlier versions of the software (with additional mechanisms to facilitate filing of returns for 2007 to 2012).
- Returns can be EFILED using any commercial tax preparation software package.
- Box 487 in all software can be checked to indicate a volunteer prepared the return, so that the volunteer does not have any responsibility for the return once it has been filed.
- If the host organization does not have Internet access, volunteer preparers may save returns on an encrypted USB key and EFILE them within 48 hours.
These improvements are part of a longer-term plan to more closely align provincial tax clinic programs with the CVITP. Coming soon, the task force aims to introduce pilot projects for CPA volunteers to conduct community tax clinics in remote northern communities outside the traditional tax season.
How to sign up as a tax clinic volunteer
If you’re thinking about volunteering with a community tax clinic this year, follow these links to find out more about the program in your province or region.
If you’re located in another province or territory, you can sign up through the CRA’s webpage.
Keep the conversation going
If you’ve had experience with the CVITP, I’d like to hear from you. Share your ideas for improving the program for volunteer CPAs and the taxpayers they serve.
CPA Canada’s Tax Blog is designed to create an exchange of ideas on tax policy and practice issues, and their impact on those who practise tax. Your comments can provide helpful input into the public interest advocacy positions developed by CPA Canada.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.