The Canada Revenue Agency will appoint a new independent tax ombudsman by the fall -- creating a post similar to the Internal Revenue Service’s National Taxpayer Advocate for the first time.

The agency’s announcement followed its unveiling of an improved Taxpayer Bill of Rights, as public officials admitted that Canada's tax system has worked well for the government, but not always for taxpayers.

The bill of rights was originally released in 1985, under former CRA minister Perrin Beatty. That document contained six basic guarantees. However, Canada is the last G8 country to provide an independent body or officer to uphold those rights.

The latest incarnation of the document contains nine new rights, in addition to its original six and five more specific to small businesses.

Some of the original six are relatively basic, such as No. 2, “The right to receive service in both official languages, “ and No. 1, that taxpayers should pay "no more and no less than what is required by law.”

But some of the other rights are more interesting, such as No. 12, which states that relief from penalties and interest, may be extended "because of extraordinary circumstances beyond your control." Those might include fire or flood, but says the CRA may also waive penalties or interest if they were incurred because of errors committed by the CRA itself. And No. 7 says individuals have the right to withhold payment of assessed income tax amounts under dispute -- other than source deductions -- until a formal review has been conducted.

And some leeway for the CRA remains built into those rights. No. 14, for example, tells taxpayers to "expect us to warn you about questionable tax schemes in a timely manner."
One of the same business promises, No. 5, simply reads, "Explaining how we conduct our business with small business."

The CRA also announced a new "complaint- resolution process" called CRA Service Complaints. The service will complement existing appeals and problem-resolution programs. If unsatisfied with existing channels, taxpayers can file formal complaints with this new body and the CRA will report on those complaints in its annual report to parliament.

More information on the initiatives is available at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/newsroom/releases/2007/may/nr070528-e.html.

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