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Non-Residents cannot open or update Canadian GST/HST accounts during COVID-19 shutdown

Source: Canada US
Link: Non-Residents cannot open or update Canadian GST/HST accounts during COVID-19 shutdown

The Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) has temporarily suspended all activities relating to non-resident goods and services tax (“GST”) and harmonized sales tax (“HST”) accounts. The CRA Non-Resident Tax Services Offices (TSO) are closed.

In the last week, I have had to tell four U.S.-based businesses that the CRA is effectively closed to non-resident businesses and they cannot do anything except make payments and file online GST/HST returns.  The same is true for non-resident businesses from other countries.

I have tried many ways to contact CRA Non-Resident TSO officers during the COVID-19 shutdown without success. My goals have been to do the following for various clients:

1. Register a company for GST/HST purposes so that services could be provided to Canadian companies engaged in essential services;

2. Register a company for GST/HST purposes so that the company can import personal protective equipment into Canada and seamlessly deliver it to Canadian front-line businesses on a duty paid basis;

3. Check on the status of a GST/HST registration filed in January 2020 before the COVID-19 shutdown;

4. File an RC 59 form in order to authorize a Canadian representative to file documents and communicate with the CRA;

5. Re-activate a GST/HST account for a non-resident client so that services could be provided to Canadian companies engaged in essential services; and

6. Determine whether a non-resident client could sign up for “My Business Account” in order to file paperwork with the CRA.

If you call the telephone numbers for Non-Resident TSOs, you will get a recorded message that the CRA TSOs are closed.  If you call a CRA Officer who works in this area (if you have a telephone number from a previous interaction), you will be informed that he or she is working remotely and will not be back in the office until sometime in May. If you attempt to send a fax to the number listed online, the fax will be a “failure” and will not go through.  No one is minding the fax machines.  If you call 1-800-959-5525 (the CRA call line), you will be on hold for hours and when a pleasant CRA officer answers the phone, you will be informed that they cannot register non-residents or make changes on their accounts.

Non-resident companies are not able to sign up for “My Business Account” because the person applying (must be an authorized person) must first input their social insurance number.  Non-residents do not have a social insurance number. As a result, no documents, including RC 59 consents for representatives cannot be filed.  As a result, if someone calls the 1-800 number and he or she is not already authorized by way of an RC 59 form, they will not be able to receive any information from the CRA about an existing account and cannot make any changes to that account.  Further, the CRA officer will not access the account to write a note about what needed to be done.

When I spoke with a pleasant CRA officer, she kindly informed me that non-residents were not considered to be “essential”.  When I mentioned that non-residents supply “essential PPE and services to Canada’s essential workers and businesses”, the CRA officer said she understood, but could not do anything.  These non-resident companies are in limbo until the CRA ends the suspension of services to non-residents.

Let’s hope that the CRA changes its current policy that it will not back-date GST/HST registrations.  Let’s hope that the CRA will allow input tax credits for GST/HST paid to the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) on commercial importations where registrations were not activated at the time of importation.

When non-resident services restart, there will be a serious backlog.  There already is a 7-8 month wait to get a GST/HST account activated for a non-resident.  I was told in early February 2020 that the wait time was down to 8 weeks, but I did not receive GST/HST registration numbers within that time frame.  It used to be that you could go to 1 Front Street and obtain a GST/HST account that day.  Things have changed – and not for the better.  With COVID-19, the situation is worse.

If you require more information, please contact Cyndee Todgham Cherniak at 416-307-4168 or at cyndee@lexsage.com.

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