By Dan Albas
When former Prime Minister Stephen Harper first introduced the Universal Child Care Benefit program that provided direct financial benefits to parents with kids, it was heavily mocked and criticized by the Liberal Opposition at the time.
Specifically, the Liberals suggested the money that would be provided towards supporting children under this program would instead be spent by parents on “beer and popcorn.”
Fast forward to the present, and the Liberal Government have not only continued this program, with changes that adds a means test, they have also significantly increased the funding.
In the House of Commons some Liberals refer to this program as the most significant social policy innovation in a decade as many believe it has helped to reduce child poverty in Canada.
The Canada Child Tax Benefit has become particularly important for divorced single parents who will often receive an increase of overall monthly financial support, if their household income has been reduced as a result of a divorce.
As with all taxpayer funded financial programs, there is a need for Government to confirm eligibility for a program and to take measures to protect against fraud. In the case of the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) this typically requires an applicant to provide various forms of documentation to confirm eligibility.
In my view, it is a reasonable expectation to provide this documentation.
Recently I have become aware of a number of cases where the Canada Revenue Agency may also request additional documentation from a separated or divorced spouse. The challenge in these circumstances is what if a separated or divorced spouse refuses to cooperate with the Canada Revenue Agency or cannot be located?
Amazingly, in these situations, the benefits of some single parents are being frozen or denied.
In some extreme cases, the Canada Revenue Agency has even gone so far as to change the tax status of a divorced or separated person to “married”. This change in tax status may result in a single parent having their monthly assistance significantly reduced and in some cases they might be determined as ineligible for the program, as it is no longer universal. In those cases, a demand is made for repayment of any CCTB benefit paid prior to the ineligibility decision.
For a single mother or father, who have been legitimately divorced or separated, this can be an extremely stressful and traumatic situation. More so if the primary cause is a former spouse, who either cannot be located or refuses to provide documentation to the Canada Revenue Agency.
Currently I am pursuing this matter in Ottawa as I believe these actions that sometimes occur with the Canada Revenue Agency can adversely impact affected single parents unfairly.
As some will know, the breakdown of a relationship is not always an amicable or pleasant experience. For the Canada Revenue Agency to penalize and deny some single parents financial support for children because of the inaction of a former spouse is, in my opinion, unreasonable and unfair.
My question this week relates to fairness.
Is it fair that in some situations a single parent could be denied Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB) benefits due to the inaction of a former spouse to provide supporting documentation?
I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-665-8711.
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the Central Okanagan, Similkameen, Nicola riding in British Columbia and the Shadow Minister for Small Business.