As a full-time student who is new to Canada, Natasha Henry wasn’t too keen on forking out precious dollars to prepare her tax return.
Thanks to a fellow classmate, she was happy to discover that she qualified for free assistance through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program.
"It’s very handy, because I don’t have to pay one of those companies to do it on my behalf," Henry said.
Henry met with a volunteer tax expert, Brett Turner, on Friday at the 7th Street Health Access Centre. The centre offers free walk-in service on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until April 30.
"He explained about the different levels of taxes that I would qualify for, and also told me for next year, I’d actually have an offset from my tuition," Henry said. "It was very informative and was quick service as well."
Henry moved to Brandon from Jamaica in August to attend Assiniboine Community College. She is just one of thousands of people who benefit from the free income tax program across Manitoba every year.
Students, seniors and other low-income individuals are assisted by trained volunteers who help them complete and file their tax return. To be eligible, the maximum income level for a single person is $30,000, and for a couple it is $40,000. For an adult with one child, the income level is up to $35,000.
Turner, a retired Revenue Canada employee, has volunteered with the program for the past 15 years. He said most of the returns that are done at the 7th Street Health Access Centre don’t result in any refunds. However, it is necessary for people to file to continue receiving certain credits and benefits.
"A lot of programs, like child tax benefit and GST credit and some provincial programs, you can’t get unless you file your income taxes," he said. "So for people like that, it’s really important."
The program is also a great benefit to new immigrants, who need assistance navigating tax forms.
"The vast majority of returns that are done here, there’s no refund, but it can range anywhere from $5 to $4,000 depending on their circumstances," he said.
In 2013, 1,400 tax returns were prepared by Brandon volunteers through the program, according to Canada Revenue Agency. Across Manitoba, the number was more than 20,000.
"I think it’s a great program for families that don’t have high income levels," said Chenessa McLennan of the 7th Street Health Access Centre. "I think a lot of people would probably not get their income tax done if they had to pay a large amount… It’s great for students and anybody who is in lower wage jobs."
The free service is also available at Brandon Seniors for Seniors.
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