The Canada Revenue Agency is in the midst of a major update to its GST/HST processing system with the goal of providing more online services and better access to information.

They 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 in to 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, and that is a major undertaking that lays the foundation for future enhancements which will take place in 2009, she said.

Boyer said the development of the electronic GST system is the result of close consultation with the business community.

“This is being done to meet the needs of the business community and provide more efficient ways to meet requirements,” she said.

There has been no calculation of how much the agency might save by e-enabling the GST process for business, Boyer said. The point of the exercise, she said, is purely to modernize the agency’s business processes and improve service offerings.

“For businesses it will be simplified harmonized set of accounting and administrative rules in a business-centred view across all business lines,” she said.

According to CRA, there will be a temporary interruption to service 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. 

And while many tax filing functions have now been e-enabled, the process is not yet entirely electronic.

“The tax filing business is very complex,” said Boyer. “There remain a number of situations that must be filed using traditional methods, but the GST service offered through my business account will continue to grow. In the year to come we plan on adding services such as view your account balance and transactions, transmit a return, view return status and all sorts of other things.”

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 justto the system itself, 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 their 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 to get the message out, he said.

Whyte said he thought 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.”

The Canada Revenue Agency won two GTEC Distinction awards last year: a bronze for its Represent a client project, and a silver for its Continuous improvements to CRA forms and publications warehouse operations project.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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