Canada Revenue Agency mistakenly declares woman dead, pensions cut off

Click to play video: 'Dead or alive? Government mistake costs woman pension'
Dead or alive? Government mistake costs woman pension
WATCH ABOVE: Dead or alive? Government mistake costs woman pension – May 2, 2016

A clerical mistake that declared a Dundas, Ont. woman dead resulted in her government pensions being cut off for two months.

“It was devastating,” said Patricia Gaudette, 66, who contacted Global News after efforts to get re-listed as a living taxpayer were fruitless.

Gaudette is alive and well, but she hasn’t yet received her Canada Pension Plan or Old Age Security benefits totalling about $1,300 a month.

READ MORE: Want to avoid an audit? Why major changes in your tax return attract CRA attention

“They’re holding all the cards,” she said. “You’re dead — they’ve got your money.”

On April 5, Gaudette received a notice from the Canada Revenue Agency addressed to “The Estate of the Late Patricia S. Gaudette,” a notice which left her stunned.

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In February, Gaudette faced a tragedy: her 30-year-old son Zachary was punched after an altercation outside a restaurant in Kelowna, B.C. He died in hospital and a police investigation has not led to any charges yet.

Gaudette had recently returned from B.C. when she was confronted with the government error. She contacted her local member of Parliament for assistance, but says she didn’t receive any help.

When she was instructed to bring identification to a Service Canada location, she says officials required more documents, including a marriage certificate.

A widow for many years, she says she would have had to order and pay for a replacement document.

READ MORE: Canada Revenue Agency nets more than expected from tax cheats

“They take all your money then they send you to all these places to put out money to prove you’re alive when they know they made an inside mistake,” said Gaudette, whose daughter contacted Global News to help resolve the problem.

Less than two days after Global called the Canada Revenue Agency, Gaudette received a call from the department explaining she would receive money this week and be reinstated among the list of living taxpayers.

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The CRA would not talk about Gaudette’s case specifically, citing privacy regulations, but said mistakes do happen.

“Occasionally information we receive is incorrect or human error can occur during the processing of a taxpayer’s information,” said Paul-Noel Murphy, manager of communications for the agency in Ontario, adding that there is a protocol for dealing with errors.

“Whenever there is any indication that the information the CRA has is incorrect, immediate steps are taken to correct our records and inform our partners. Those steps also include ensuring that affected individuals receive all the benefits and credits to which they are entitled.

“The error is usually corrected on the day we receive the information that the individual was coded deceased in error.”

But Gaudette’s case took weeks to resolve and only after the involvement of Global News.

READ MORE: Tax evasion prosecutions in Canada fall dramatically

Government errors leading to pronouncement of death on paper are more common that you might imagine. Between 2007 and 2013, the government made the same mistake 5,439 times, according to government records.

The federal Office of the Taxpayers’ Ombudsman, an independent agency that investigates complaints about the CRA, issued a report on the problem in 2014. Titled “Alive and Well”, the agency made eight recommendations to reduce the effects of mistakes like this.

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“Put in place and monitor control measures to ensure that when errors do occur, they are detected and corrected as rapidly as possible,” the report concluded.

Gaudette, upon finding out she is back in the land of living taxpayers, was ecstatic.

“It sounds mighty fine to me,” she said. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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