The Auditor General’s Report on Timelines

The Branch is working to improve timeliness.

6.31 Over the last few years, the Agency has emphasized shortening the length of time it takes to resolve an objection. Timeliness goals set by the Branch were met in over half of the cases in 2003–04 for income tax and GST objections (Exhibit 6.2). The goals are based on historical averages and what the Branch considers a reasonable expectation, given the resources available and a desire to maintain quality.

6.32 Taxpayers have a legal right to appeal their case to the Tax Court of Canada if they have not received a decision from the Appeals Branch within 90 days of filing an objection. We found that many of the Branch’s timeliness goals for income tax objections exceed 90 days by a large margin, and they include only the time that an appeals officer actually spends working on the objection. They do not include time during which the appeals officer may be waiting for the resolution of a similar issue in a court case or for a response from headquarters or another Agency branch (for example, headquarters has 180 days or six months to respond to an appeals officer’s request for a legal or other opinion). It is not difficult to see why a complicated dispute can take one or two years to resolve. However, most taxpayers appear willing to wait for an administrative decision before appealing to the courts.

6.33 In an effort to be more responsive to taxpayers and registrants, the Branch now requires that they receive a letter within 30 days of filing an objection; the Agency reports that this requirement is met in most cases. The letter acknowledges that the objection has been received and estimates how long it will take for an appeals officer to contact the taxpayer or registrant. Because an appeals officer has not yet reviewed the objection, however, the letter does not address the specific issues the taxpayer or registrant is disputing. Furthermore, any misunderstanding that the taxpayer or registrant may have about the assessment or any need for further documentation to resolve the dispute is not addressed until an officer reviews the objection. A preliminary review of the objection by an appeals officer and contact with the taxpayer or registrant for more information where needed could help resolve the objection sooner.

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