Community Financial Counselling Services to expand access to tax benefits

8 February 2017
Prosper Canada is excited to introduce Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS) as a Financial Empowerment Champion (FEC). CFCS is a non-profit credit counselling agency based in Winnipeg that provides a variety of affordable and accessible financial counselling/financial literacy services and programs for individuals across the province of Manitoba for more than 40 years.
 
CFCS is partnering with SEED Winnipeg as one of the five nationwide partnerships that are aiming to expand proven financial empowerment interventions to improve the financial well-being of Canadians living on low incomes. As an FEC champion, CFCS is expanding their free income tax preparation services through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP), which is a partnership between the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and community organizations. This has been operating for 40 years serving 30,000 Manitobans annually. CFCS has partnered with CRA to provide those services to 10,000 plus people in Winnipeg for the past eight years.
 
From February to April, the organization coordinates volunteer tax clinics and from May to October, they host individual tax filing appointments. CFCS supports 30 other organizations to run tax clinics with planning, volunteer recruitment and training, computer hardware, and preparation of drop-off tax forms.
 
CFCS hosts their tax clinics in the auditorium of an office building in downtown Winnipeg, where they operate 15 work stations run by volunteer tax preparers. Volunteers receive hands on training from CFCS. The Manitoba Tax Assistance Office provides supplemental training in provincial tax credits and benefits. The clinics run for 40 days, and process around 10,000 tax returns, resulting in over $21 million in immediate tax benefits received. The clinics serve a large range of people, including people living on a low income, newcomers to Canada, Indigenous peoples, and seniors. 
 
Through the FEC project, CFCS will formalize the process of training volunteer tax preparers about income tax and government benefits people may be eligible for once they file their taxes. Volunteers have been doing this informally, however it was challenging to speak with every person they serve since there are many provincial and federal benefits for diverse populations. CFCS has identified 24 provincial and government credits the people they serve may be eligible for, but are not accessing. John Silver, Executive Director of CFCS, says that “by formalizing this [process], we hope we will be reaching people with benefits like RESPs to rental assistance.” 
 
Raising awareness about eligibility and access to benefits is important because this is an opportunity for people living on a low income to receive a boost to their incomes. John adds, “As an FEC organization, we have been made aware of how important access to benefits are and we realize this is an important part of financial empowerment. We are going to have somebody at the clinic who is going to be available to speak with people who seem to be eligible to apply for benefits, so at least they know where to turn.”  
 
In addition to improving access to benefits through their income tax clinics, CFCS will also be expanding their financial counselling/financial literacy services through the FEC project.

Read more about CFCS and their income tax preparation services.
 
For more information about the Financial Empowerment Champions project, visit: www.prospercanada.org/FEC