AMHERST - A group of community volunteers is once again reaching out to help those in need complete their income tax returns.
Supported by the Canada Revenue Agency, the volunteer-run tax preparation program works with low-income people, seniors and physically challenged individuals to make sure they submit an income tax return and receive the benefits associated with doing so.
"It's a community-based program in which we train volunteers to go out into the community help people," Pat Olmstead of the Canada Revenue Agency said while conducting a course for the volunteers Monday at the Cumberland YMCA. "There are people out there who need help because they either can't afford to get someone to it for them or don't know anyone who can do it."
During the clinic, attended by six volunteers, participants were given an update on tax changes while agency representatives showed the volunteers how to fill out the tax returns for those who need help.
Many government assistance programs require recipients to complete an income tax return, but many of those who can use the benefits often fall through the cracks because they don't think of filling out a return or don't have the money to pay someone to do it for them.
Olmstead said 400 volunteers did more than 15,000 returns provincewide last year, while in Amherst between 400 and 500 returns were completed by community volunteers, assisted by the Amherst Rotary Club.
"It's amazing the number of people who need this program and without these volunteers, there's no program," said Olmstead. "Even with the program we still miss people because they don't know we exist. We advertise to get the message out there, but there are a lot of people who still miss out on the benefits and credits because they have fill out a return to get them."
She said there are many seniors who stop filling out income tax returns after they retire because they don't think they have to. However, to get things like the GST credit and guaranteed income supplement, they have to fill out a return.
As well, there are things like the disability tax credit that require yearly filing.
"Some people are eligible for refunds that they don't get because they don't file," Olmstead said.
Once the training is complete, the revenue agency will schedule some sessions during the tax season during which people can bring their returns to have them completed by the volunteers. For low-income people, the cutoff is $25,000 for individuals and $30,000 for families, though there is some discretion.