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CRA will send new letters verifying CERB eligibility

CRA will send new letters verifying CERB eligibility

OTTAWA — The Canada Revenue Agency is sending a new series of letters to recipients of pandemic assistance to verify that they were eligible for assistance and alerting them to a possible need for repayment.

This is the second time the agency has sent a letter to recipients of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as part of a process to verify the eligibility of the millions of Canadians who received the $500-a-week benefit.

The CRA sent more than 441,000 letters to CERB recipients towards the end of 2020 asking them to verify that they met the payment eligibility rules.

Thousands more are coming out starting Thursday, this time targeting beneficiaries who may have earned more than the $1,000 a month the Liberals allowed from mid-April 2020.

The agency says people who receive letters have tax information that suggests they earned too much income during the periods they received aid.

The letters say the CRA will work on flexible repayment plans for anyone who has to repay some of the money, interest-free, but warns that won’t be the case for those who don’t respond to the government’s missive.

The federal government quickly rolled out CERB early in the pandemic, only requiring applicants to certify that they were eligible.

The government opted for some initial validation checks to speed up payments during the March and April 2020 shutdowns, when three million jobs were lost.

In the end, CERB distributed $81.64 billion to 8.9 million beneficiaries.

The government has long said authorities will review claims after the fact to recover overpayments.

Following a critical review by Auditor General Karen Hogan last March of missed opportunities to prevent fraud and improper payments, the government said it would spend four years tracking down every wrongful payment.

“The few letters that will come out this week are the beginning. We’ll start with a few thousand,” said Marc Lemieux, the CRA’s deputy commissioner responsible for collections and verification. “Eventually, however, for a program of this size, I think that it is hundreds of thousands of letters that we will have to send and ask people to validate their eligibility.

Letters sent at the end of 2020 asked some recipients to prove that they met a criterion for CERB: that they had earned at least $5,000 in the previous 12-month period.

The letters, however, raised concern among low-income people who feared they would not be able to repay and interpreted the CRA’s message as setting a repayment deadline by the end of this year.

The agency seems to have learned from that experience and massaged the message this time around.

Lemieux said the letters this time indicate the agency has some information rather than none, and wants additional details to validate someone’s CERB payment.

“People may have made mistakes, their situation may have changed during the time they were receiving the benefits,” he said.

No one at this stage is asked to repay. They will have 45 days to contact the CRA, after which the agency may decide that the person should repay the money. Lemieux said the agency plans to be flexible on repayment plans for any amounts owed.

“We may need information about their financial situation, then we will see with them what is possible, and we will see if we can accommodate them,” he said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 27, 2022.