May 2, 2021
20 years and not much to brag about
Not yet, anyway.
Granted, our government finally recognizes that more needs to be done as far as improving access to the Disability Tax Credit (DTC), in its 2021 Budget, A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth and Resilience.
Applications in two categories, mental functions and life-sustaining therapy, have had a high rate of rejections in recent years. Some have even ended up in the Tax Court of Canada.
“We are pleased to see the measures included to make the Disability Tax Credit more equitable and accessible” noted the Disability Tax Fairness Alliance (DTFA) in a letter to the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Finance and the Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Ministers of National Revenue. The DTFA supports amendments to the eligibility criteria for both categories.
Budget 2021 proposes the following:
Nevertheless, the improvements fall short of the recommendations by the Disability Advisory Committee in its 2020 Second Annual Report.
The DTFA strongly encourages that the government clarify the definition of “all or substantially all” of the time in the Income Tax Act so that it is less subject to interpretation and inconsistent application. Specifically, the DTFA suggests that "all or substantially all of the time" recognizes that individuals may be markedly restricted in their mental functions for everyday life even though the external signs and symptoms may be perceived to be intermittent.
The DTFA also asks the Canada Revenue Agency to recognize that conditions that require life-sustaining therapy such as diabetes and PKU cannot be cured, and therefore the eligibility for the DTC should be permanent rather than subject to review every few years.
The reapplication process for permanent medical conditions should not be a gamble with an uncertain outcome.
Twenty years ago, on May 28, 2001, I stood before Justice Diane Campbell of the Tax Court of Canada appealing my husband’s case (Buchanan v. The Queen) because he was denied the DTC after receiving it for five years.
The former Minister of Finance, the Honourable Paul Martin, was very blunt in a letter to me, dated September 13, 1999. He suggested that people living with severe mental illness were not as disabled as people living with physical impairments receiving the DTC:
“If eligibility for the DTC were broadened to include situations as you have described… the federal cost would be much greater… In addition, the eligibility criteria would become even less clear and even more difficult to administer fairly.”
Judge Campbell did not agree. Nor did the three justices on the Federal Court of Appeal (Attorney General v. James W. Buchanan) when the CRA requested a judicial review of the decision.
While it may be more difficult to administer the DTC for people living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses, that is hardly an excuse.
My Fighting for Fairness Campaign has now stretched over 20 years.
As a member of numerous federal committees, one thing was always certain: the lack of political will to ensure fairness for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Because of the cost, even more than originally envisioned, not just for the tax credit, but access to so many other federal income support programs including the Registered Disability Support Plan, the Child Disability Benefit, Home Accessibility Credit, Qualified Disability Trust, to name a few.
Our government realizes now that the CRA may not be the best arbiter of social programs for Canadians with disabilities.
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland has allocated $11.9 million to Employment and Social Development Canada to undertake consultations over the next three years to reform the eligibility process for federal disability programs and benefits.
This important work will keep the concerns re: barriers still faced by many Canadians with disabilities front and centre. It also provides them with hope for a more secure future.
TAGS - DTC, CRA