‘It’s been awful’: Winnipeg family frustrated with wait times for CRA helpline

A Winnipeg family is frustrated with the Canada Revenue Agency’s phone service, saying they’ve been hung up on after waiting for four hours to speak to an agent. 

Adam St. Pierre and his wife, Michelle Ferrier, said they have been trying to reach an agent for two weeks and every time they called the CRA helpline, they waited for hours. 

St. Pierre said the last time he tried calling was on Friday evening. He waited four hours to reach an agent and when someone finally picked up, they hung up on him. 

“It’s frustrating, every day, frustration. You know you’re going to have to do this, you go to bed worried,” he said.

The CRA said it’s hiring additional agents to increase its call centre capacity. It has also extended its call centre hours and set up an automated call back service. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

St. Pierre said they need help from the CRA because they initially applied for CERB and his wife is also on maternity leave, which created complications that need to be cleared up. In addition, they’re both locked out of their online CRA accounts because of recent password resets. 

“Everything revolves around having a phone in our hand, trying to cook, trying to clean, doing dishes,” he said. 

Extended hours, more agents

The CRA said it’s acting to improve service for Canadians this tax season by hiring additional agents to increase its call centre capacity.

The new agents will be able to answer general inquiries about emergency benefits but will not be able to access taxpayer’s personal information, a release from the government says. 

The CRA said it also installed a new automated callback service and extended its call centre hours from regular business hours to 9 p.m. local time.  

St. Pierre said he tried using the callback service, but an agent did not call him back. He said it’s been stressful having to plan their day around calling the helpline.

His wife said they’ve had to “double team it” — trying to call the line simultaneously with two phones, with the hopes that an agent will pick up on one. 

“It’s been awful,” said Ferrier, adding she has to call while caring for her newborn daughter. 

The new agents will be able to answer general inquiries about emergency benefits but will not be able to access taxpayer’s personal information, the federal government says. (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

“It takes up a lot of your time worrying about that instead of doing other things. It feels kind of hopeless at this point, getting hold of somebody,” she said. 

St. Pierre said they also can’t budget properly without knowing if their financial and payment issues would be resolved. 

“We can’t do anything except hope that it’s going to get fixed before it becomes too much of an issue,” he said. 

Wait times affecting more people, says advocate 

Sandra Guevara-Holguin, an employment insurance and income assistance advocate at the Community Unemployed Help Centre, said she has been receiving more complaints about long wait times for the CRA and Service Canada helpline since September. 

She said on average, people say they’ve had to wait for 45 minutes to speak to a CRA agent. 

“That’s with the expectation that you’re calling the right number right? If you ask a question and that particular agent won’t be able to help, you get redirected to whoever can,” said Guevara-Holguin. 

Sandra Guevara-Holguin, advocate with CUHC, said the CRA should set up an online service request that’s similar to that of Service Canada. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

Guevara-Holguin said many of her clients are stressed about having to repay back CERB payments, which brings them to the helpline. She said the federal government should’ve done more filtering when it offered CERB in March last year. 

“Even if that meant a bit of a delay on providing the benefits, they would have saved themselves a lot of work,” she said. 

Suggestions for improvement 

To alleviate the backlog, Guevara-Holguin said the CRA should set up an online service request that’s similar to that of Service Canada. She said it has relieved a lot of pressure for people who needed help with employment insurance. 

“We have heard really good reviews about that. People are getting calls within 24 hours, 48 hours. That is huge,”  Guevara-Holguin said. 

Ferrier said she would like to see an online scheduling service where she can book a time to speak to an agent or expect a callback. 

St. Pierre said it would be great if the CRA can create an online chat service, where an agent can assist someone through messaging. He still believes the federal government needs to hire more agents. 

“Making everybody wait and everybody not being able to do anything is certainly not helping, right? There’s tons of people out there looking for jobs,” he said.