CRA sends 441,000 ‘educational’ letters to Canadians who may need to repay CERB

TORONTO — The Canada Revenue Agency has sent 441,000 “educational” letters to Canadians who may need to repay the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) they received during the spring and summer months.

In a statement, the CRA said the agency sent the letters to people who received the CERB benefit, but the CRA has been unable to confirm their eligibility for the program, possibly because they did not file their taxes in 2019.

“Individuals who have received this letter should not interpret it as a determination that they have definitively been deemed ineligible for the CERB; what the letter means is that the CRA does not yet have the information needed to confirm that they are in fact eligible for the benefit,” a CRA spokesperson wrote in an email.

The CRA said this latest letter “strongly encourages” those who received it to file their 2019 tax returns as soon as possible.

“We expect this will likely be the case for many of the individuals who receive this letter,” the agency said.

Earlier this month, CTVNews.ca reported that confusing wording related to the eligibility criteria for self-employed workers led several Canadians to receive notice that they would need to repay the benefit they received previously.

To be eligible for CERB, self-employed Canadians have to have received more than $5,000 in income in 2019 or in the previous 12 months before applying. However, confusion arose as the CRA counts self-employment income only as net pre-tax income, despite the word “net” not being included on the original rollout of the program or on “Who is eligible” page for CERB, which is still available online.

The CRA said the letters are meant to address some of this confusion.

“The CRA is taking an educational approach with these letters,” the agency said. “As such, the goal of the letter is to explain what qualifies as earned income to be eligible for CERB, and what does not.”

The CRA said the CERB eligibility criteria for income includes gross income on a T4 slip, commission income, tips or royalties, honoraria, non-eligible dividends earned instead of payment, net self-employment income and maternity and parental benefits.

CERB recipients who do not meet the eligibility criteria will be required to repay the amount they received and are being encouraged to do so before the end of the year so it doesn’t impact their 2020 tax return, though this is not a deadline and those applied for the benefit earnestly will not be charged interest.

The CRA added that so far 995,000 CERB payments have already been repaid through their online portal.

“The CRA is sympathetic to the fact that, for some individuals, repayment of these amount may have financial implications,” the statement read. “Individuals who cannot make a payment in full are advised to contact the CRA to make a payment arrangement.”

Last month, the CRA sent 213,000 letters to Canadians who may have received two CERB payments instead of just the one. The most recent letters are “distinctly different” from the ones sent in November, however the CRA said it’s possible some CERB recipients will have received both.

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