Volunteering to Provide Tax Services? A few matters to keep in mind

By CPABC; published in CPABC in Focus
Published: March/April 2016

From CPABC’s Advisory Services Team

Each year, many CPAs volunteer to prepare personal tax returns for low-income taxpayers in their communities. Providing this much-valued volunteer service gives CPABC members an opportunity to support their communities by helping those truly in need of this assistance, including social assistance recipients, newcomers to Canada, seniors, and students.

Recognizing that many of you volunteer in this capacity, we wanted to draw your attention to a few matters that must be kept in mind when providing such services, including a new exemption requirement.

Exemption from licensing

Normally, income tax preparation services are included in the definition of “public practice” under the “other regulated services” category of the CPABC bylaws.[1] A CPA member engaged in public practice is required to obtain a practice licence under one of the categories of licensure, as listed in part 7 of the bylaws.

However, recognizing that the preparation of tax returns at volunteer tax clinics is in the interest of the general public, CPABC has implemented a new policy that enables volunteering members to apply for exemption from the licensure process where their primary occupation is not in public practice, and where they provide these tax services to the public on an incidental basis only. This application for exemption is required only for members not already licensed for public practice—this includes members who are employed in public practice but who are not personally licensed. In addition, members holding an “Other Regulated Services – Non-Reviewable” licence will need to apply for the exemption as this category does not permit them to prepare T1s.

Note: Members are required to apply for this exemption each year in which they plan to participate in a volunteer tax preparation program. This means, for example, that authorization granted in 2016 will apply to the 2015/2016 tax season only. Note also that the exemption applies only to members who volunteer these services through organized tax clinics/programs.

Professional liability insurance

Because members authorized to provide volunteer tax services assistance are exempt from licensure, they are not subject to professional liability insurance requirements. However, to ensure the protection of the public, CPABC recently made arrangements for a blanket policy with AICA Services Inc. that will apply to authorized CPABC members under the following conditions (all of which must be met):

  • The preparation of tax returns will be provided in a volunteer capacity, where no fee is charged or accepted;
  • The service will be provided through to April 30 at an organized tax clinic; and
  • Tax preparation will be for low-income taxpayers only, defined as:
    • Individuals who have no dependants and who have a gross household income below $30,000, or
    • Individuals with dependants, or couples, who have a gross household income below $50,000.
  • Additionally, authorized CPABC members must not prepare tax returns for individuals who have:
    • Self-employment income (except for T4A slips with income in box 48 under $1,000),
    • Business or rental income and expenses,
    • Interest income over $1,000,
    • Capital gains or losses, or
    • Employment expenses;
    • Or who have:
      • Filed for bankruptcy or consumer protection, or
      • Died in the taxation year.

The premium for this insurance will be covered by CPABC, and the coverage will stay in effect through to April 30 in the year of exemption, as long as the member adheres to the constraints on eligible tax returns, as noted above. To apply for the exemption and register for this coverage, go to bccpa.ca/volunteer-tax-services.

Professional competence

It’s important to remember that volunteer work is regulated under the CPABC Code of Professional Conduct. As Rule 203 of the Code stipulates: “A member shall sustain professional competence by keeping informed of, and complying with, developments in professional standards in all functions in which the member provides professional services or is relied upon because of the member’s calling.”[2]

Therefore, before undertaking the preparation of tax returns—even at a volunteer tax clinic—a member must assess their own professional competence. If, in doing so, they determine that additional training is needed, they should consider taking a tax update course through CPABC’s Professional Development Program, a course held by one of the local CPABC chapters, or online training offered by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) through its Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, as described below.

Community Volunteer Income Tax Program

Many community groups that offer free tax clinics do so in collaboration with the CRA, through its Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP). Under the CVITP, community groups host free tax-preparation clinics and arrange for volunteers to prepare income tax and benefit returns for eligible individuals, while the CRA provides co-ordinators to guide in the program’s delivery. The CRA also offers training and tax software for CVITP volunteers. To register as a CVITP volunteer or to get more information about the program, go to cra.gc.ca/volunteer or call 1-800-959-8281.

Note: The CRA has advised that, effective 2016, volunteers who file tax returns electronically must get individual EFILE certification, and that CPA members are exempted from undergoing a police records check provided the member advises CRA by appending their designation in the “last name” field of the online application form or by notifying the CRA coordinator.

Contact us

Volunteering to provide tax services can be a rewarding experience—one that enables members to give back to the community, gain new skills and/or improve existing ones, and do work that is needed and appreciated. CPABC encourages members to get involved, noting the new exemption policy.

If you have any questions about applying to volunteer in this capacity, please contact CPABC’s advisory services department at 604-872-7222 or email us at professionaladvisory@bccpa.ca.

Footnotes

  1. See the definitions section of the CPABC bylaws, available on the bccpa.ca website under the Members tab—click on “Regulatory” and choose “CPABC – Act, Bylaws & Rules.”
  2. See Rule 203 of the CPABC Code of Professional Conduct, available on the bccpa.ca website under the Members tab—click on “Regulatory” and choose “CPABC – Act, Bylaws & Rules.”