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A system that ‘takes forever’

Samantha Morgan and her eight-year-old daughter Annaleise Hillier.
Samantha Morgan and her eight-year-old daughter Annaleise Hillier. - Submitted

Samantha Morgan has endured a lot while battling for benefits

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY - Since going public about her battle for benefits, Samantha Morgan said she has received calls from lawyers across the country willing to fight the taxman on her behalf.

During a phone interview from her home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Jan. 9, the single mother said she would be speaking with a Toronto lawyer later in the morning.

Morgan said that while things are now on track for her to receive $450 a month in child benefits, the Canada Revenue Agency is refusing to pay her for the years when benefits were withheld.

Her troubles with CRA started, she said, after her divorce was finalized in 2013.

When she tried to claim the family child tax benefit for her daughter, she said, she was told her husband had claimed both her and their child. That’s not the case, she said.

The next year, she said, she was told she’d made too much money and was not entitled to the benefit. Her income that year, she said, was less than minimum wage.

Morgan said contacting CRA “takes forever.”

“I was trying all day, every day for weeks. Then, when I finally get a hold of somebody they tell me they have no idea... that they can’t give me an answer,” the 29-year-old said.

Morgan is among other single parents across the country who have come forward about their troubles with CRA since the CBC started airing their stories in 2017.

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The federal government’s auditor general, Michael Ferguson, noted in his 2017 Fall report that CRA “gave taxpayers very limited access to its call centre services, including both the automated self-service system and call centre agents and that, based on its test results, “agents gave taxpayers information that was not accurate almost 30 per cent of the time.”

The report said that between March 2016 and March 2017, the Agency blocked more than half of the calls it received (about 29 million out of 53.5 million) at its nine call centres because it could not handle the volume.

Blocked calls were those that did not reach either an agent or the automated self-service system. Instead, callers were given a busy signal, a message to go to the website or call back later. This means, the report noted, that each caller made an average of three or four call attempts per week. Even after several attempts, some callers did not always reach an agent or the automated self-service system, the report continued.

According to the report, CRA acknowledged that its aging call centre technology does not allow the Agency to automatically route incoming calls to the next available agent across its national network, nor is it capable of providing callers with the estimated wait time to be served by an agent.

The auditor general recommended that CRA review how it manages incoming calls and suggested the Agency consider giving callers information on call wait times to access an agent. The information would allow the taxpayer to decide if they wanted to wait, use self-service options such as the website, or call back later.

In 2017 CRA signed a commitment to transition its call centres to a new telephony platform as part of the Government of Canada’s Contact Centre Transformation Initiative. The transition is expected to begin in early 2018. The new technology will allow the Agency to inform callers of estimated wait times to speak with an agent.

CRA also agreed that, throughout the 2017–18 fiscal year, the Agency will examine how it manages wait times in an effort to reduce the number of attempts that callers need to make to reach a call centre agent. The Agency will also work to offer callers more self-service options, where possible, instead of waiting to speak with an agent.

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Morgan said her struggles with CRA caused her to go bankrupt. She had to give up her apartment, she said, and move into her mother’s home with her child.

While she received a payment from CRA for $3,000 this past summer, was told her file was now clear and that she didn’t owe government any money, Morgan said, CRA still owes her thousands of dollars in benefits she was entitled to but never received.

“When I needed (the money) the most, they took it away... I just want what I’m owed,” she said.

 danette@nl.rogers.com

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