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A new report sums up the Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) delays in processing tax returns and adjustment requests as substandard.

The report, released Friday by the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, found that the CRA meets or exceeds its own service standards for processing returns and adjustment requests 95% of the time — an admirable success rate, but little comfort to the 5% of taxpayers who experience extended wait times.

According to the CRA’s service standards, digitally filed tax returns should be processed within two weeks 95% of the time, and paper-filed returns should be processed within eight weeks 95% of the time. These standards apply only to returns that are filed on time.

That leaves 5% of diligent taxpayers who are out of luck no matter how they file. And those 5% aren’t special cases: the CRA excludes people with complicated tax situations — such as those filing returns for deceased persons, or filers who are bankrupt — from its service standards.

Meeting the service standards for 95% of filers means the majority are taken care of in a timely manner. As Mr. Spock famously opined, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” But the Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman took a different view, suggesting that the needs of the few are just as important as the needs of the many.

“Although the CRA states it is committed to processing returns and adjustment requests ‘with all due dispatch,’ we find that because the CRA meets its service standards for the majority, it accepts not meeting them for the minority,” the ombudsman stated. “The CRA needs to treat the timely processing of returns and adjustment requests for the minority as equally important.”

The ombudsman observed that the CRA does not notify filers when there may be a delay in processing a return. Further, when taxpayers call the CRA, the ombudsman found “they are given little to no direction on the status and are asked to call back at a later date.”

The ombudsman concluded its report with 15 recommendations to the Minister of National Revenue to improve the CRA’s performance, including:

  • publishing service standards for late-filed returns, as well as standards for returns that are excluded from the existing service standards;
  • increasing the service standard timeline for digital returns and decreasing the service standard timeline for paper returns;
  • notifying filers when their returns are referred to a specialized processing workflow within the CRA; and
  • changing the first-in, first-out policy for processing returns in specialized workflows, giving priority to returns filed by taxpayers “who may experience the highest negative impact of delays.”

To see all the recommendations, read the ombudsman’s report.