CRA redesigns taxpayer notices

National Post

2016-02-20


Starting this month, the Canada Revenue Agency will be begin sending taxpayers a new, simpler, easier-to-read Notice of Assessment (NOA) to acknowledge the acceptance of your 2015 tax return and the amount of refund you can expect (or balance still due!).

Individuals who qualify for family benefits and/or the quarterly GST/HST credit will also receive a simplified Benefits Notice, beginning in July 2016.

The improved communication, which came about as a result of a CRA review of international best practices, feedback from Canadians and its own external correspondence, focused on how the NOA is designed, formatted and written. For example, the CRA is finally moving away from the Courier font (which resembles the letters struck by your grandparents’ manual typewriter) to the Helvetica font, which is widely used in corporate logos and by both the Canadian and U.S. governments.

The clean, new look of the NOA is part of the government’s commitment to make the CRA more “client-focused and more helpful to Canadians.”

“Improving how we communicate with Canadians is a part of my mandate as Minister of National Revenue,” said Diane Lebouthillier in a press release. “The CRA will now offer clear and easy to understand correspondence products.”

The re-designed NOA and Benefits Notices display the most important information on the first page, such as the results of your assessment, your account summary, and what you’re supposed to do with the information. The content on the NOA has been streamlined to include only the most important information.

Each year, the CRA sends out approximately 130 million pieces of correspondence to Canadians. Last year, the CRA sent out nearly 29 million NOAs to individuals as well as 23 million benefit and credit notices. Within the next year, the CRA says it will have redesigned approximately 75 per cent of its correspondence.

The first phase, which was completed in less than 18 months, covered the top 20 pieces of CRA correspondence by volume with the second phase, scheduled for completion over the next two years, covering the CRA’s more customized and technical correspondence.

The CRA is also making the majority of its correspondence available online through its “My Account” system, allowing you to access much more detailed information about your taxes and benefits.

Your NOA is important not only because it confirms the amount of tax payable for the year being assessed, but it also starts the clock ticking on the amount of time the CRA has to reassess your return. Under the tax rules, the CRA can adjust your tax return during the three years following the date printed on your notice of assessment.

If truth be told, however, we should be grateful that we even get an NOA in the first place. For example, U.S. tax filers, including U.S. citizens living in Canada who are required to file U.S. returns annually reporting their worldwide income, generally receive nothing from the Internal Revenue Service to confirm that their return was assessed as filed. In fact, the IRS will generally only issue a notice to a U.S. tax filer if there is a balance due, the refund is smaller (or larger) than originally calculated or if the IRS has a question about the return. In other words, in the U.S., no news is generally good news.