The system, which makes its debut April 10, will allow GST registrants to receive electronic updates on the status of their payments, transfer credit to other accounts and change communication instructions on their accounts, among other things.The redesign project was launched in 2000 to modernize service delivery and integrate GST into the business suite, and to the agency-wide common business platform such as registration, accounting and outputs, said Ariane Boyer, a spokesperson for the agency. The April 2007 release includes changes to core functionality. It is a major undertaking that lays the foundation for future enhancements that will take place in 2009, she said.

There has been no calculation of how much the agency might save by e-enabling the GST process for business, Boyer said. There will be a temporary service interruption from March 19 to April 9.

During that time, the CRA will be training field staff on the system. Processing of returns will be delayed and specific information related to registrants’ GST accounts or the status of their refunds might not be available, although businesses are still required to file and meet tax deadlines.

Manual processes remain
And while many tax filing functions have now been e-enabled, the process is not yet entirely electronic. In the year to come, the agency plans on adding services to view account balances and transactions, transmit a return and view return status.

For the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, anything the federal government can do to ease the burden of meeting tax requirements for small businesses is a good thing. But there is still room for improvement, not just to the system, but to the way the CRA informs businesses of the changes, said executive director Garth Whyte.

“I don’t think anyone has a clue what’s going on,” he said. “They don’t know there have been changes, that there will be new services. They don’t know there might be a temporary interruption of service or that penalties will be aligned.”

Most businesses look to the media, their tax advisors, and business associations for information, not the CRA, so the agency will need to better inform those sources, he said.

Whyte thinks an increasing number of businesses will be interested in filing their GST electronically. But, while e-enabling the GST process is a step in the right direction, it’s only a piece of the puzzle, he said. “I’m co-chairing a paper burden reduction committee,” he said. “But paper burden is not just being able to file electronically, it’s the steps you have to take to file, so it’s not a panacea.”

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