As British Columbians start getting their speculation tax form in the mail, there is growing frustration about the telephone hotline the provincial government has set up to help.
Brad Buckley was attempting to complete the declaration form for his mother and was never able to get through to the operator, he said.
“At 4 o’clock there was a message on the prompt that the whole system had crashed and they weren’t accepting any calls,” Buckley said.
“I would suggest they would mail it out in sections. But just don’t give everyone this notice that says declare now.”
The provincial government says it has 150 people working at the phone centre and are shifting workers around to make sure peak times are appropriately covered. There has also been a callback option initiated where callers can get a call back rather than waiting on the line.
The province is requiring all British Columbians who live in an area with the speculation and vacancy tax to opt out of the tax.
All people who own residential property in the taxable areas will receive a letter with instructions for how to complete a declaration and register an exemption.
The phone line has been set up to take questions or for people who do not have access to the online system.
If you own only one home and are a British Columbian you are exempt from the tax.
“Please note that if your property has more than one owner, even if the other owner is your spouse, a separate declaration must be made for each owner,” reads the government’s website.
The province says the goal of the tax is to target foreign and domestic speculators who own homes in B.C. but do not pay tax here.
The government also hopes the tax will turn empty homes into housing for people and raise revenue that will go to supporting affordable housing.
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The speculation tax has been criticized by mayors in Kelowna, Langford and West Kelowna for hurting the local housing market. The tax was brought in as a crucial part of the B.C. government’s housing affordability plan.
British Columbian homeowners will be required to provide their date of birth and social insurance number, are required to complete the declaration and claim an exemption from the tax by March 31, 2019.
“We already have already 150 staff trained to answer questions. Part of our process is to always continue review our call volumes so we target our resources and provide good customer service for people,” the Ministry of Finance’s Steven Emery said.
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The province has also provided information online to help answer any of the questions the public has about filling out the forms.
The tax includes all municipalities within the Capital Regional District excluding Salt Spring Island, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area and the Southern Gulf Islands. It also includes municipalities within the Metro Vancouver Regional District, excluding Bowen Island and the Village of Lions Bay.
The other taxable communities are Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Nanaimo and Lantzville.
Starting in 2019, the the speculation and vacancy tax rate will vary, depending on your residency and where you pay income tax.
Foreign owners and satellite owners will pay two per cent on the assessed value of a residential property. A satellite family is an individual or spousal unit where the majority of their total worldwide income for the year is not reported on a Canadian tax return.
British Columbians with multiple homes that are not rented out for more than six months of the year, and other Canadian citizens or permanent residents, will pay a tax of 0.5 per cent.
Exemptions include owners who are disabled, if the property was just inherited, if it’s valued under $150,000, or a person is away and has left the home vacant due to medical reasons, residential care, work or spousal separation.
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