It’s said that only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Like death, taxes can be terrifying – especially if you have no money and think you’re going to owe the government.
But taxes don’t have to be so scary. Through their Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP), Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS) transitions people from fearful to fearless.
The CVITP is a partnership between the Canada Revenue Agency and community organizations, such as CFCS. The community organizations host free tax clinics where they recruit and train volunteers to prepare income tax and benefit returns for eligible individuals who have a modest income and a simple tax situation.
In 2016 CFCS completed over 9,100 tax returns and helped participants access refunds and credits amounting to over $21 million!
“The majority of people who come to the tax clinic receive a significant boost to their income,” says CFCS Executive Director, John Silver. “It’s especially helpful for families with several children. Often, by doing their taxes they can gain $2000 in refunds and additional benefits. We can go back up to 10 years so it can be a significant amount. People walk out happy.’’
The CFCS tax clinics serve a wide range of people including people living on low income, newcomers to Canada, Indigenous peoples, and seniors. To get help through the CVITP, a person’s income must be:
- Below $30,000 for a single person who has no dependents
- Below $40,000 for a couple plus $2,500 per dependent
In addition to running the largest tax clinic in Canada, CFCS supports 30 other organizations with planning, volunteer recruitment and training, computer hardware, and preparation of drop-off tax forms for hosting their own tax clinics.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the help of volunteers. CFCS has volunteers who have been with the organization for over 30 years. Some even use their own vacation time to volunteer. Currently, CFCS has a core of 20-30 veteran volunteers who, in addition to doing taxes, also help by acting as mentors to new volunteers.
‘’They love what they do and it is rewarding for them to help others,” says Silver. “We had one volunteer who had been coming to the income tax clinic for over 40 years. She decided that last year would be her final year. She turned 100!’’
The vision of CFCS is that all Manitobans will have the capacity to make informed decisions and successfully navigate the various financial systems that have an impact on their daily lives. As Silver indicates, “CFCS believes that income taxes and access to eligible benefits form an important part of our financial situations. Beyond the CVITP program, personal income taxes are included in all our financial counselling sessions and financial literacy activities.
‘’This program is important because access to benefits has become important for poverty reduction. If the person is low income, they need to be receiving the refunds.’’
For information about where to find a tax clinic, please visit the CRA website.
CFCS is an accredited Credit Counselling Canada member. As a not-for-profit credit counselling agency based in Winnipeg, they provide a variety of affordable and accessible financial counselling and financial literacy services and programs for individuals across the province of Manitoba.