The Canada Revenue Agency has acknowledged that “unclear communication” on who was eligible for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic led to Canadians mistakenly applying for the package despite being ineligible.
The government collection service said this included confusing information both on the benefit’s web pages, and admitted unclear information was given to call centre agents.
“The Government of Canada acknowledges that communications on this topic were unclear in the first days after the CERB was launched.”
The CRA also conceded it was aware that letters from the agency could be considered “a source of anxiety” for many Canadians and said there would no penalties or interest fees in CERB repayment cases.
The agency added that it would give Canadians “more time and flexibility to repay based on their ability to pay.”
“We will work with impacted individuals on a case-by-case basis, and we expect to be in a position to provide more details in the coming weeks,” the statement read.
The CRA’s statement comes in the wake of recent letters sent to around 441,000 Canadians that suggested they may need to repay every monthly payment they received by the end of the month, which could amount to up to $2,000 per month.
In the letters, the CRA said CERB applicants needed to have an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or within the previous year before applying, applied to “net income,” or gross income minus expenses, for self-employed individuals, despite not explicitly specifying this on their website.
Those within that financial bracket who applied based on their income before claiming expenses expressed concerns they would only have one month to repay up to $14,000 in monthly CERB payments.
“We regret that this lack of consistent clarity led some self-employed individuals to mistakenly apply to the CERB despite being ineligible,” the CRA said.
Almost 35,000 people have signed a petition asking the Liberal government to halt repayments until a “further investigation” can be completed into the “misleading eligibility requirements” they claim were stated on the online application.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday tried to reassure Canadians that CERB repayments wouldn’t be an “extra stressor” during the upcoming holiday season.
“We didn’t deliver support for millions of people who needed it just to claw it back at Christmas,” said Trudeau, adding that Canadians who made a mistake in “good faith” while filing for CERB would not be punished.
“I don’t want people to get worried. I have made a promise that we shall help the people who need help,” he added in French.