Even if they don’t make enough to pay taxes, seniors should file a return

Office of the Seniors Advocate provides tax tips and information about income support eligibility

It’s tax time again, and that means it’s time to examine how your money comes in and goes out — and then give that information to the Canada Revenue Agency.

For seniors in our society, it can be an especially stressful time, but the Office of the Seniors Advocate of BC wants to make it less so.

To that end, Isobel MacKenzie — B.C.’s senior advocate — and her staff issue regular updates about all kinds of changes that affect seniors financially, including tips for tax time.

In January of this year, for example, a large section of the OSA’s newsletter was about the importance of filing a tax returns — even for those who don’t earn enough to pay taxes.

“There are a number of income supports that rely on your tax return for eligibility,” the newsletter reads. “These include the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement and Old Age Security programs, as well as a number of provincial programs, including: The Senior’s Supplement, which provides a monthly payment of $49.30, Medical Services Plan (MSP) Premium Assistance, which offers reduced monthly premiums … (and) the BC Bus Pass Program, which provides an annual bus pass for only $45.”

At the same time, the office is reminding seniors to check their eligibility for financial assistance with their monthly MSP premiums.

MSP increased Jan. 1 by approximately four per cent, and the recent budget announcement has raised premiums yet again, although the government says the next round of changes, effective Jan. 1 2017, include adjustments to premium assistance, as well.

“The Regular Premium Assistance program has five levels of subsidy for individuals and families earning less than $30,000,” the Office of the Seniors Advocate says, adding that Premium Assistance may be provided retroactively up to six years from the date of application.

“Seniors have one of the lowest median incomes and would likely benefit the most from MPS Premium Assistance,” MacKenzie said in a release earlier this year, “however many are not aware they qualify.”

She cites her 2015 report, entitled “Bridging the Gaps,” in which she found that only 39 per cent of respondents in a random survey of seniors across the province were aware of the program, and the ones who could benefit the most — households with income under $30,000 per year — were the least aware of the program.

For more financial tips and income supports — along with information on health care, housing and transportation for seniors in B.C. — head online to seniorsadvocatebc.ca

There are Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinics available to help seniors and others prepare their taxes at no charge.

Campbell River clinics are located at the Campbell River Advocacy Services Centre, 300 St. Ann’s Road from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1-2 p.m. on Tuesdays through Thursdays, the Salvation Army Ocean Crest Ministry at 291 McLean St. on Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Salvation Army Lighthouse on Cedar Street downtown on Mondays and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Vancouver Island North Women’s Resource Society at 105-1116 Dogwood St. on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Go to cra.arc.gc.ca to see the restrictions on using these free services. Some only serve those below certain income thresholds — while others are available to all — and complex returns with self-employment income, rental income, capital gains or losses or bankruptcies are not eligible for processing through these clinics.