Organizations are collections of individuals who don't necessarily agree on all things. This is very evident at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). You can call multiple times with a complex tax question and get a different answer each time. The only important answer is the one that is made in actually assessing a tax return, but it seems impossible to access this answer until you actually file the return.
I am caught in a complex tax situation where the latest federal budget changed the rules so that I will owe much less money. Technically I'm supposed to pay the large sum, wait for the appropriate budget legislation to pass, and then re-file my 2009 income taxes and get the money back.
If lending a large sum of money to CRA only to get it all back again later sounds insane to you, I agree. I decided to contact CRA to see if a more reasonable approach was possible. After penetrating the first few layers of CRA phone help the pleasant senior tax person I spoke to agreed that the temporary loan made little sense.
She went away for a day or so to find out whether I could avoid paying the large sum just to get it back later. She came back and said that she had consulted with the appropriate group and that there were many people in my situation. If I filed my taxes in the way she described (which I did) my return would be set aside until the tax legislation passed at which time my return would be assessed.
Predictably, things have not played out in the way I was told they would. My return was assessed right away and the CRA machinery is demanding its money. The demand came with a leaflet explaining the steps CRA follows to get its money. This information is both illuminating and intimidating. I'm left wondering whether I can still expect that people in my position will be handled later when the tax legislation passes or whether the full force of CRA tax collection will be aimed at me in a month or two.
Eventually, I will call CRA to try to find out what is going on, but I'm not sure I will be able to rely on whatever new answer I get. If someone could have told me in April that I would have to pay the large sum of money, at least things would have been clear even if I didn't like the answer. I would have headed down to my bank to open a mortgage planning to close it a few months later (grumbling about CRA the whole time).
My complaint isn't that I don't like CRA's decision. My complaint is that I don't know what CRA's decision will be. And I know of no reliable way to find out what their decision will be. If I thought this was a case of CRA having just changed their minds, I could live with that. But my assessment showed no evidence that the extra documentation I was told to send in was ever received.
I can understand that CRA must hire a huge number of people at tax time and that CRA can't be held responsible for the many wrong answers these people give. However, when the amount of money at stake is very large, it would be nice if it were possible to get access to correct answers.