While the requirement that Canadians file an income tax return each year never changes, the actual content of that return is never the same year to year. While many of the changes — like inflation-related increases to income tax brackets and credit amounts — happen automatically and don’t require any particular awareness or action on the part of the taxpayer, this is not the case with all tax changes. In some cases, taxpayers who aren’t aware of the changes can miss out on newly available or expanded tax deductions or credits, even if they are using tax preparation software to prepare their return. While the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will usually catch arithmetic errors made on a return, the Agency does not (and cannot) ensure that a taxpayer has made all of the claims which are available to him or her. And perhaps the only thing worse than having to pay a tax bill is paying one that is higher than it needs to be because available deductions or credits were missed.
This year, there are three tax or tax-related changes on the return for 2021 which are likely to affect a broad range of Canadians, and they are explained below.
Home office expenses
During the 2021 tax year, millions of Canadians continued to work from home, at least some of the time, for pandemic-related reasons. It has always been the case that employees who work from home and who meet certain criteria can deduct a portion of certain expenses related to the use of a home office — including internet usage fees and a portion of utilities costs and rent. In order to make such a claim, the employee must provide a specified form (the T2200 or T2200S) signed by his or her employer, indicating that the employee works from home and bears those costs, without reimbursement by the employer. To make the claim, the employee was also required to calculate the specific costs incurred and be prepared to provide documentation of those costs, if asked.
In view of the fact that millions of Canadians have been working from home for the first time during the past two years, and recognizing the somewhat onerous extent of record-keeping required to claim home office expenses, the federal government offered employees a choice in the form of a flat rate deduction. Using that method, an employee can claim a deduction of $2 for each day that he or she worked from home, to a maximum of $500 (for 2021), without the need to provide receipts or to obtain a T2200 from the employer. In order to qualify for the flat rate deduction, an employee must have worked more than 50% of the time from home for a period of at least four consecutive weeks for pandemic-related reasons. An employee who was offered the option of working from home and chose to do so will also qualify for the flat rate deduction.
Employees who worked from home during 2021 and meet the eligibility criteria under both the new flat rate and older detailed method can choose which one to use. Those who want to determine which method gives a better tax result can calculate their actual costs on a T777 (available on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/forms/t777.html) and then decide which is the better option for them.
Detailed information on the two methods, including eligibility criteria and required documentation, can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/about-your-tax-return/tax-return/completing-a-tax-return/deductions-credits-expenses/line-22900-other-employment-expenses/work-space-home-expenses.html.
Climate action incentive payment
In this case, the change is not a change to the tax rules, but rather the means by which, and the schedule on which, the tax benefit is delivered. Eligible taxpayers who live in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or Ontario can receive a tax-free Climate Action Incentive (CAI) payment, which is intended to help offset the impact of federal pollution pricing. For 2022, the basic amount of that incentive is $360, with higher amounts available to taxpayers who live in rural areas.
On the return for 2020, the CAI was claimed, and the payment delivered, as part of the tax filing process, with eligible taxpayers claiming the incentive by completing Schedule 14 of the return. Any incentive amount to which the taxpayer was entitled would then create or increase the refund owed to the taxpayer. Conversely, where the taxpayer owed money on filing, that tax bill would be reduced by the amount of any CAI to which the taxpayer was entitled.
On the return for 2021, most taxpayers do not need to complete Schedule 14 or make a specific claim for the CAI. The exception is taxpayers who live in rural areas, who must complete Schedule 14 in order to indicate their eligibility for the CAI rural supplement. For taxpayers who are not eligible for that rural supplement, the CRA will determine a taxpayer’s eligibility, and the amount of any CAI payable, based solely on information contained in the taxpayer’s return for the year. The major change, however, is that payment of the incentive to eligible taxpayers is not delivered as part of the tax filing process – in other words, it won’t create or increase a tax refund and it will not reduce any tax payment required on filing. That’s because, starting in 2022, the federal government intends to deliver the CAI as a quarterly benefit payment. Under that new system, one-quarter of the CAI for the year will be paid to eligible taxpayers in each of April, July, October, and December of the year. Since the information needed to determine a specific taxpayer’s eligibility will not be available until the return for 2021 is filed, the July 2022 payment will include a retroactive payment for April 2022 — it will, in effect, be a “double-up” payment, covering the first six months of 2022.
For 2022, the CAI is $360 for an adult, plus $180 for a spouse, plus $89 for each eligible child. More information on the CAI for 2022 is available on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/child-family-benefits/cai-payment.html.
Canada Workers’ Benefit
The CWB is a refundable tax credit provided to lower income working Canadians. The CWB is not new, but changes have been made for the 2021 tax year which both increase the amount of the benefit and expand its availability.
The CWB is claimed by completing and filing Schedule 6 of the annual tax return. And, while the calculations to be made on that Schedule are somewhat complex, the amounts which are available to eligible taxpayers (as set out on the CRA website) are:
- $1,395 for single individuals — the amount is gradually reduced if your adjusted net income is more than $22,944; no basic amount is paid if your adjusted net income is more than $32,244.
- $2,403 for families — the amount is gradually reduced if your adjusted family net income is more than $26,177; no basic amount is paid if your adjusted family net income is more than $42,197.
An additional amount (the CWB disability supplement) is also provided to taxpayers who are eligible for the federal disability tax credit.
The changes made to the CWB for 2021 will expand the number of taxpayers who are eligible for the credit. Consequently, taxpayers who were not eligible for the CWB in previous years would be well advised to complete Schedule 6 this year to determine whether, as the result of the change in the rules, they can now receive it.
Detailed information on the CWB for 2021 can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/child-family-benefits/witb-eligibility.html.