Kevin Christieson, owner of Quesnel’s QTax Quality Tax Services, is alarmed at the number of what he says are fraudulent Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) COVID-19 financial relief cheques coming across the company’s desk of late.
“At our office, we have quite a few transient people who use our address as their own — we allow them to do that — and I’ve been getting all these cheques for these people, and we’ve been returning them to the government,” Christieson said, noting some of those individuals are also receiving social assistance cheques at the same time.
“We’re doing the right thing, but we’ve had a lot of upset people with us now. We’re trying to help them out and looking out for their best interest. They (may have) committed fraud, but they want the money.”
Christieson said his biggest concern is people applying for and receiving CERB in error has resulted in cheques being cashed throughout the country by individuals who will not be able to pay the money back.
“You’re going to end up with millions of dollars owed by people who are already on social assistance and have no means to pay that back. How is the government going to address that?”
The federal government, meanwhile, said May 14 they will be requesting employment records in the coming months from employers for specific people who have applied for and collected CERB.
The review will be led by the Canada Revenue Agency. To date, the government has not been asking people to provide documentation proving their income as part of the CERB claims process.
“As Canada Revenue Agency is administering the program, it is extremely difficult to understand why the government is not exercising caution and performing due diligence on each application,” he said. “CRA has all applicants’ tax return information so they could easily determine who is and who is not entitled based on 2019 reported income.”
He’s worried the government is allowing applicants to fraudulently apply for CERB knowing that, in many instances, there will be zero chance of recovery.
“We understand the government wanted to get this credit out as quickly as possible,” Christieson said. “But this is no excuse to be negligent with taxpayer dollars. We demand the government implements a screening process immediately to eliminate any further fraudulent CERB applications.”
Melanie MacDonald, the executive director of Seasons House Shelter in Quesnel, said she echoes Christieson’s concerns, and said they have been doing their best to have conversations with their clients about the potential repercussions.
“When people come to us and ask us about it we’ll print off the eligibility guidelines and also explain some of the repercussions if someone does go ahead and apply for the CERB,” MacDonald said.
“I just hope it’s not a widespread issue that’s happening across our province. Really, it’s the underpins of all that is poverty and we’d hate to see people struggle more in the future once it’s all done.”