OTTAWA — Canada's taxpayers' advocate says the Canada Revenue Agency isn't doing a good enough job ensuring women living in shelters with their children are aware of and receiving benefit cheques.
Taxpayers' ombudsman Sherra Profit launched a systemic examination Friday to study what kind of effort the CRA has made to reach out to shelters regarding benefits such as the Canada Child Benefit or the working income tax benefit.
Profit said she has received several complaints from shelters about the lack of information from the CRA, but also a call from Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier last fall concerned about concerns she was hearing.
Lebouthillier asked the ombudsman's office, which operates at arm's length from the CRA, to look into the matter.
Profit launched a preliminary examination which included conversations with staff at about 25 shelters across Canada, which proved there did seem to be a problem worth looking at in more depth.
Only a handful of the shelters said they'd had any contact from the CRA at all and in those cases it was not directly with information to help clients apply for and receive benefits. The information shelter workers could provide to clients was largely based on their own experience as parents or through their own efforts to research what benefits are available.
The Canada Child Benefit alone is worth up to $6,400 for a child under six each year.
"Access to information about benefits is crucial especially when somebody is in a situation where they're needing use of the shelter," said Profit in an interview with the Canadian Press.
"They're in that situation where they don't have access to the resources they normally would have access to, especially if the information is just online. We really want to make sure that those people who are in a vulnerable situation already are not made further vulnerable by not being able to access the information the CRA has available to help them get those benefits that may assist them with their insecure and vulnerable situation."
The study will include not just emergency shelters for women and kids fleeing domestic violence, but also homeless shelters or any kind of temporary accommodation to help someone who suddenly finds they don't have a roof over their head.
There are over 600 emergency shelters for abused women in Canada and approximately 400 emergency homeless shelters.
Profit said the work will not be limited to women's shelters because she wants to understand how anyone experiencing the need of a shelter, be they a man, woman or child, has access to information about benefits that may help them.
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