Grave mistakes: Tax agency cuts number of fatal file errors


OTTAWA — The federal tax collector is less and less seeing dead people where there aren’t any.

Figures recently tabled in Parliament show that 319 people were erroneously declared dead by the Canada Revenue Agency between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2017, which actually marked a 39 per cent decline from the preceding two-year period.

A spokeswoman for the agency says the agency incorrectly thought 524 people were dead between 2014 and 2015.

The 319 people who were wrongly marked dead in the last two years represented 0.06 per cent of all the deaths reported to the CRA.

The figures for the first few months of 2018 won’t be available until August.

The details are contained in an answer the CRA provided to a written question from Conservative MP Alupa Clarke, who wanted to know how many times the agency had mistakenly marked someone as dead and the effects this had on benefit payments.

Provinces and territories are responsible for collecting information about deaths and they pass on details to Service Canada, which notifies the CRA to stop payments to the deceased and start payments to surviving partners.

The CRA says it also uses information on tax filings and from taxpayers to update its records, but even that backup isn’t full-proof.

“Despite safeguards to ensure accuracy of its files, occasionally information it receives is incorrect or misinterpreted,” the agency wrote in its response to a written question.

The majority of errors in the last two years were made when someone filed a return on behalf of a deceased and provided the wrong social insurance number, such as the one for the surviving spouse, which then causes that person to be coded as dead, the CRA said.

Federal and provincial governments have been working on an overhaul of the death notification system to focus on electronic collection and sharing of information.

A consultants’ report from October 2016 called the lack of digital services “the greatest constraint” facing governments that need timely registration and notification of a death.

Hiccups in the notification process lead to mistakes in benefits payments, by either paying benefits to someone who hasn’t qualified for them, or stopping payments to someone who may need them.

On average, it took 45 days before the CRA restarted benefit payments once the agency learned someone it thought dead was actually still quite alive.

Faster payments were provided to anyone “experiencing financial hardship,” the agency told parliamentarians.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press