Come Clean with CRA – How and When to Use the Voluntary Disclosures Program

How and When to Use the Voluntary Disclosures Program

What is CRA Voluntary Disclosure?

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP) is a legal avenue that allows Canadian taxpayers to rectify previous errors or omissions in their tax filings. It presents an opportunity for individuals and businesses to come forward and voluntarily correct their tax affairs before the CRA initiates any action or audit regarding the misinformation or incomplete information. This proactive approach to compliance may result in relief from penalties or prosecution that would typically accompany later detection by the tax authority.

When Voluntary Disclosure Is it Useful??

If you have made errors on prior year tax returns or if you have not filed when you should have, you may be worried about how to handle this situation. While it is not a crime to owe taxes, Canadians are legally required to file their tax returns on time and to provide accurate information. If you fail to do so, you could face serious financial and legal consequences. You could even potentially face tax evasion charges. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) takes these situations very seriously.

However, the CRA Voluntary Disclosure program is designed to favor honesty and integrity within the Canadian tax system, potentially offering different levels of relief depending on the nature of the disclosure and the taxpayer’s history. The CRA assesses several factors to determine the extent of relief, which may include waiving penalties and interest, on a case-by-case basis. Engaging in the VDP reflects taxpayers’ willingness to adhere to tax laws and can result in a clearer financial standing with the CRA moving forward.

What aspects are to be included in a Voluntary Disclosure?

  • It must be, as the name suggests, voluntary. This means that you must initiate the process before you become aware of any compliance action that the CRA may be taking against you. If the CRA has already contacted you regarding your prior returns, you are unable to apply for voluntary disclosure.
  • The information provided must be at least one year past due for income tax applications and, for GST/HST applications, at least one reporting period past due. If your return is less than a year overdue, you can simply file it as normal, though you may have to pay a penalty for missing the deadline.
  • The information provided must be complete. This means you must correct all errors and provide all information that is missing. You cannot submit a partial correction.
  • There must be a penalty involved, meaning that the information provided will result in taxes or penalties likely being assessed. The voluntary disclosure program cannot be used to get yourself a refund.
  • You must include payment of the estimated tax owed when you file.

If your disclosure satisfies these terms and is deemed appropriate by the CRA, you will still have to pay the taxes owing plus interest in part or in full. However, you will not be referred for criminal prosecution, and, in some cases, you could receive relief from penalties. However, how the CRA will treat your case will depend on the particular circumstances of the disclosure filing.

Working with an experienced professional accountant in Toronto is critical at this time to give you the best chance at having your disclosure application accepted

How CRA Voluntary Disclosure Works

It is split into two tracks to differentiate those who want to correct unintentional errors from those who attempt to intentionally avoid their tax obligations.

 the type of relief you could receive will greatly depend on the track into which your case is placed.

  • The VDP General Program is designed for taxpayers who made unintentional errors and wish to correct them. If you are placed into this program, the CRA will provide partial interest relief for years preceding the three most recent years of returns, you will not be charged penalties associated with the issue that was corrected, and you will not be referred for criminal prosecution relating to the information you disclosed.
  • The VDP Limited Program is in place for situations where the agency believes that there was an element of intentional conduct to avoid your tax obligations. In these situations, you will not be referred for prosecution and you will not be charged gross negligence penalties. However, you still may be charged other penalties associated with the situation and you will also be charged applicable interest.

Whether an application is processed under the General or Limited Program is determined on a case-by-case basis. Several factors will be taken into account, including but not limited to:

  • the dollar amounts involved;
  • the number of years of non-compliance; and
  • the sophistication of the taxpayer/registrant.

When to Apply for the Voluntary Disclosure Program

As the CRA points out, there are several situations in which it might make sense to apply under the VDP. These include cases where:

  • A return for a previous year was not filed and it is now late
  • Ineligible expenses were claimed on a tax return
  • Required Information returns (for example, Form T1135, Foreign Income Verification Statement) were not filed.
  • Income from foreign sources that is taxable in Canada was not reported on a tax return that was already filed.

Who Can Apply for the Voluntary Disclosure Program

To qualify for relief, the CRA says that an application must:

  • Be voluntary (i.e., taxpayers must submit their application before the CRA takes any enforcement action against them).
  • Be complete (taxpayers must include all relevant information and documentation, and make sure to disclose all taxation years affected). If a taxpayer wants to declare income that goes back several years—2020 to 2024, for example—but they no longer have all the backup to confirm the amounts, they must estimate them as closely as possible.
  • As mentioned, involves the application or potential application of a penalty.
  • Include information that is at least one year past the filing due date. As Posner points out, this is one element that makes it different from a T1 adjustment. He also notes that the program can be applied to returns going back up to 10 years.
  • Include payment of the estimated tax owed.

Limits and Exclusions

Certain exclusions apply, which means not all disclosures will be accepted:

  • Disclosures will not be considered if they relate to bankruptcy returns or returns with no tax owing or an expected refund.
  • Applications are based on decisions that have already been made by the CRA or the courts.
  • Requests that relate only to the determination of a fair market value.
  • Situations that involve advance pricing arrangements or roll-over provisions.

The Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP) allows taxpayers to correct inaccuracies in their previous tax filings. It is critical to follow the proper procedures to ensure compliance and potentially obtain relief from penalties and interest.

1. Preparation and Documentation

Taxpayers must compile all necessary documents that pertain to the tax years in question. This preparation includes gathering relevant financial statements, receipts, and prior tax returns. All information must be complete, meaning every tax year and issue must be disclosed. The taxpayer must not have any omissions or incomplete facts related to the disclosures.

2. Submission Procedures

To initiate the VDP process, taxpayers should submit Form RC199, Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP) Application, or an equivalent letter containing the same information as the form. The submission must be voluntary before the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) starts any enforcement action like an audit or investigation regarding the taxpayer’s returns.

  • Use Form RC199 for the application.
  • Use Form T1135, Foreign Income Verification Statement
  • Include all relevant information.
  • Make the disclosure voluntarily before CRA action.

3. Assessment and Completion

After submission, the CRA will review the application to determine if it meets the criteria of the program. If accepted, the CRA will process the disclosure and assess any taxes owed. The taxpayer may be granted relief from prosecution and, in some cases, from penalties and interest.

  • CRA reviews the disclosure.
  • Determines acceptance based on VDP criteria.
  • Assesses taxes and considers relief options.

After Disclosure: Compliance Measures

Following a successful voluntary disclosure with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), taxpayers must ensure they abide by certain post-disclosure compliance measures to maintain their good standing and avoid future penalties.

Payment Arrangements

After disclosing to the CRA, the taxpayer is typically required to settle the owed amounts. If the taxpayer cannot pay the full amount immediately, the CRA may offer a payment arrangement. This allows the taxpayer to make smaller, scheduled payments over time.

  • Initial Payment: An upfront payment may be required to demonstrate commitment to the payment arrangement.
  • Instalment Payments: The balance can often be paid through a series of installments, the terms of which must be adhered to strictly to avoid default.

Ongoing Tax Obligations

Post-disclosure, taxpayers must maintain ongoing compliance with tax laws. This involves:

  • Accurate Reporting: Ensuring all future tax returns are accurate and filed on time.
  • Record Keeping: Maintaining detailed financial records to support claims on tax returns.
  • Deadlines: Meeting all CRA deadlines for submissions and payments to avoid further interest and penalties.

It is crucial that taxpayers engage with the CRA’s guidelines to remain in compliance after a voluntary disclosure.

Rejection of Application

An application may be rejected if it does not meet the CRA’s criteria for a valid voluntary disclosure. This includes ensuring that the application is complete, is submitted before the CRA is aware of the compliance issue, and contains information that is more than one year past due. The CRA’s decision to reject a voluntary disclosure can lead to taxpayers being liable for the full amount of taxes owing, plus interest and penalties.

Subsequent Audits and Investigations

Following a voluntary disclosure, taxpayers may still be subject to audits by the CRA for the years disclosed or other tax years. Such audits can uncover additional discrepancies that were not originally reported, potentially leading to further tax liabilities. Moreover, if the CRA suspects fraud or misrepresentation, a voluntary disclosure will not protect a taxpayer from criminal investigation or charges.

Seek Professional Advice

When considering the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Voluntary Disclosure Program (VDP), taxpayers are advised to seek professional advice. The complexities involved in tax disclosures require expertise to ensure the applications are complete and compliant.

Professionals can help taxpayers navigate the nuances of the VDP application, assess the completeness of disclosures, and advise on the implications of the disclosure. A well-selected professional accountant in Toronto significantly increases the chances of a successful VDP application.

You can trust our experienced team to work with you and the CRA to resolve your tax situation. Our years of experience and deep understanding of CRA processes make us the right choice if you are considering applying for the CRA Voluntary Disclosure Program as well as dealing with nearly any tax situation. So, here’s your opportunity to get all your questions and concerns answered. All consultations are completely confidential whether you finally choose us or not. Feel free to reach out to Filing Taxes at 416-479-8532. Schedule an NTR engagement appointment with us and take the first step toward proper management of your finances.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is intended to provide general information. The information does not consider your personal situation and is not intended to be used without consultation from accounting and financial professionals. Salman Rundhawa and Filing Taxes will not be held liable for any problems that arise from the usage of the information provided on this page.

Written By:
Salman Rundhawa
Salman Rundhawa is the founder of Filing Taxes. Salman provides valuable tax planning, accounting, and income tax preparation services in Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, and Hamilton.

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