As many Canadians apply for the second tranche of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) amid the COVID-19 crisis, some are wondering what to do after receiving a potential double payment from the government during the first round of applications.
CERB provides $2,000 every four weeks for up to 16 weeks to Canadians, whether employed or self-employed, who lost their income due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Applications opened on April 6 for the period between March 15 and April 11, with Canadians able to apply for the following four-week period — from April 12 to May 9 — starting on Monday, April 13.
But some Canadians who have received more than $2,000 from the government during the first week are wondering what to do next.
The answer depends on the nature of those payments.
Two identical payments of $2,000
Canadians who received two identical payments of $2,000 likely applied twice for the CERB and received more than entitled to, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough said on Friday.
The Canada Revenue Agency and Service Canada, which are jointly administering the benefit, will be in touch with applicants in this situation, Qualtrough said.
“You don’t have to call us, we’re going to call you,” the minister said.
Social media posts suggest some Canadians who had already applied for traditional Employment Insurance (EI) also applied to CERB, triggering the double payment.
Canadians are not eligible to receive both EI and CERB at the same time.
Those Canadians who were already receiving EI unemployment or sickness benefits as of March 15 will continue to receive the benefits and should not apply to CERB, the government has said.
Canadians who have applied for EI but whose applications have not yet been processed don’t need to re-apply for jobless benefits. If they became eligible for EI before March 15, they will receive EI. If they became eligible for EI on or after March 15, they’ll be automatically enrolled in CERB.
However, the system did not prevent Canadians from mistakenly submitting two separate applications for the benefit through CRA and Service Canada and receiving double payment.
“We’re still getting a handle on how many of these double payments actually happened, which were completely driven by confusion by applicants of the need to apply once or twice,” Qualtrough said.
The CRA website and Ottawa’s CERB portal now carry prominent warnings about double applications.
It’s not clear yet how the federal government will handle the overpayments.
There won’t necessarily be a clawback, Qualtrough said. While no one will receive more than a maximum of $8,000 through the program, the government will ensure that addressing the double payments doesn’t cause financial hardship to CERB recipients, the minister added.
People who’ve mistakenly applied for CERB twice should set aside the $2,000 they received in overpayment and “be prepared to pay it back,” said Lior Samfiru, a Toronto employment lawyer and co-founder of Samfiru Tumarkin.
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said during a press conference on April 8 that double payments reflected CERB benefits being paid for the period between March 15 and April 11 as well as the following four-week period, but Qualtrough later clarified those who received $4,000 mistakenly applied twice for the same benefit period.
However, Canadians who received more than the CERB amount but not two identical $2,000 likely have nothing to worry about.
“Any other combination of payments means you were paid accurately,” reads the CERB portal.
Canadians who applied for CERB once but aren’t entitled to it
Canadians who received CERB but returned to work earlier than expected or later realize they aren’t eligible for the benefit will have to return the payments, according to the CRA website.
“In some situations, Canadians who have only applied through the CRA may wish to return or repay a CERB payment,” the CRA told Global News via email.
“The CRA has safeguards in place to prevent the issuing of more than one payment to an individual for a specific 4-week period,” the agency also said.
Those who’ve been paid by cheque and still have the cheque can mail it to the CRA’s tax centre in Sudbury, Ont., the tax agency said.
Those who used direct deposit or no longer have the government cheque can mail a personal cheque to CRA making the payment out to “Receiver General for Canada” and indicating the cheque is for “repayment of CERB.” Taxpayers should include their social insurance number (SIN) or temporary tax number, the CRA said.
Samfiru said in recent days has heard “countless times” from Canadians who have erroneously applied for CERB believing the benefit is available to all.
Many are applying even if their income has not dropped to zero or they have voluntarily quit working, even if the benefit is only available to those who have no income and have lost the ability to work due to COVID-19, Samfiru said.
Much of the misunderstanding appears to stem from Canadians receiving incorrect advice from accountants and financial advisors, Samfiru said.
The government is relying on the honour system for CERB — asking Canadians to apply for it only if they are eligible — in order to get financial aid to Canadians as quickly as possible. All applicants need to submit to receive payment is their SIN and their contact information.
However, the government has said it will check eligibility at a later date, and you may be asked to provide additional documentation to prove your eligibility.
While fraud levels in Canada aren’t high, Ottawa will be conducting checks, Qualtrough said.
“Over the course of, whether it’s weeks or month to follow, we will definitely verify income and verify eligibility,” she said.
Those who don’t qualify for the benefit will have to pay back the government, “at least during tax time, if not before,” she added.