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Yellowknifers and Northerners will file their 2020 tax returns in the coming weeks and the Covid-19 pandemic is bringing some changes. 

Tax consultant and accountant Andy Wong says an important change for the first Covid tax season is to claim deductions on staycations. However, it’s necessary to prove the time a person left and the time of return from a trip to claim the maximum benefit.
NNSL file photo

Last June, tax consultants pointed out the importance of keeping receipts and being able to claim travel come this tax season. 

Andy Wong, tax consultant and accountant with Crowe Mackay, said one of the biggest differences this year will be that because Northerners took far fewer flights due to the pandemic, many participated in ‘staycations’ within the NWT’s borders. 

Wong said it’s important for residents to have proof of the time they left on the staycation and the time they returned. 

“With regards to staycations if you are driving then presumably you want to make sure you buy the gas when you leave town and buy it when you get back to town so that you bracket the duration of the trip,” he explained. “The most important thing for claiming staycations is to be able to prove the duration of your trip.”

The Northern Travel Allowance saw an increase in the amount residents can claim for meal allowances per person in 2020. Individuals can now claim up to $69 per day for all meals, whereas it was a maximum of $51 per day a year earlier.

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“So it is definitely beneficial and you can see the importance when for a 10-day trip it could become $690 dollars in a tax deduction,” Wong said.  

Northerners would have been more likely to drive or boat to their destinations compared to flying in other years. In smaller communities, residents may have travelled more extensively on the land. In most cases this could mean that overall costs to travel were much lower in 2020 with the benefits higher, Wong said. 

CERB and relief payments 

Steven Ford, owner and operator SGR Financial Services, said other big differences this year are for people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments due to employment being affected by Covid-19. 

“This year is different in the fact that anyone who has received the benefits from CERB or any other relief benefits provided, all of these are taxable to the individuals,” Ford said.
“The government has been saying it for a while and so most people are aware.”

Taxpayers who have been receiving CERB payments in 2020 will have received a T4A slip from the federal government’s CERB program. 

If residents applied for the CERB assistance through Service Canada, they will have received a T4E slip, which is similar to an unemployment insurance slip. 

In most cases, slips should have been received in the mail, Ford said. 

Home offices 

Residents may also be eligible to claim on their taxes the extent to which they had to work from a home office due to the pandemic, Ford said. 

“If you worked more than 50 per cent of your time from home for at least four consecutive weeks and expenses were directly related to work, you are eligible to claim home expenses,” he explained.

Ford said there are two ways of making a claim – one called a simplified method where the resident can claim they worked from home based on the requirements and thereby receive a $400 deduction.

The second method is through a more complicated process with support from an employer. 

“In that case, you would have to do a detailed claim where a letter would be provided from the employer through a T2200, called a declaration of conditions of employment,” Ford said. “It would detail all at-home expenses and work out square footage and the percentage of work space and how long the person was working from home.” 

Travel claims 

Provided residents have the Northern travel benefit Box 32 filled out by an employer, each person can claim two trips per person per household

“So if you have Box 32 checked, you, your wife and two kids – everybody in the household – can each claim two trips in a year,” Ford said. 

He added that people in the household aren’t required to have travelled at the same time.  

Monday, Feb 22 is the first day that tax agents are able electronically submit tax returns to Revenue Canada. 

Once returns are filed, it typically takes as few as seven business days for people to receive their refunds through direct deposit in their bank accounts. 

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