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    Kirsti Cheese

    Paying back the CERB
    When the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was first introduced, the government accepted most applications without checking to make sure that people were eligible. Now they’re planning to do this.

    If someone got the CERB when they should not have, the government says that they’ll have to pay it back. This month’s On the Radar article from Community Legal Education Ontario looks at repaying the CERB and how this works.

    What’s the CERB?
    The CERB was introduced on March 25, 2020, to help people who had to stop working because of COVID-19. It pays $500 a week for up to 24 weeks.

    This means that people can get up to $12,000 from the CERB.

    Everyone who applied was accepted
    Because the CERB was made for an emergency, the government treated speed as a priority. This meant that they accepted almost everyone who applied, without checking whether they qualified.

    All people had to do was “attest” or promise that they were eligible. They did not have to show proof.

    Applying and not being eligible
    The CERB eligibility rules are not straightforward. There are slightly different rules depending on whether someone applies through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or Service Canada.

    And there are several ways that a person could qualify through each of these agencies. This makes it very easy for a person to think that they qualify when they don’t.

    Some people may have been told to apply by their Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program caseworkers even if they did not qualify.

    Here are some situations where a person might worry that they got the CERB when they should not have:

    – They think that they earned more than $1,000 a month while getting the CERB.
    – They miscounted or did not understand the amount of time that they had to stop working before applying for the CERB.
    – They’re not sure whether the $5,000 they need to have earned to qualify for the CERB was insurable income. This applies only to people who applied for the CERB through Employment Insurance or Service Canada.
    – They don’t think that they earned the required $5,000, either in 2019 or in the year before they applied.
    For other people, their eligibility may not be clear because of why they left their job. This is important because you can’t get the CERB if you voluntarily quit.

    So, a worker might think that they quit, while their employer says that they were laid off. This will often be the case when an employee is constructively dismissed because of changes to their job. Because of all the changes to people’s work during COVID-19, this may apply to many workers.

    Getting legal help
    If someone is not sure whether they should have received the CERB, it’s important to get legal help before they decide to make a repayment.

    They can talk to a lawyer or a community legal clinic.

    Repaying CERB money
    It’s not clear how the government is going to find people who should not have received the CERB. But they’ll likely do this next year when people do their income tax returns.

    In the meantime, if someone knows that they should not have received the CERB and is able to pay the money back, there are a number of ways to do this:

    – They can return their CERB cheque, or write a new cheque, and mail it to Service Canada or the CRA.
    – They can use their internet banking by choosing the “Canada Revenue Agency – tax instalment” or “Employment and Social Development Canada” as the payee and use their Social Insurance Number (SIN) as the account number.
    – They can repay the money at their bank, using their SIN as the account number.
    – They can use their CRA My Account to return the money online.
    The CRA is asking people to repay before December 31, 2020. If a person repays the CERB before this time, the government says that they won’t be fined or get some other penalty.

    This will be a very short timeline for many people. If someone needs more time to pay the CERB back, they can contact the CRA at 1-800-675-6183 and ask to set up a payment plan. If they can pay at least some of the money right away this will help to show the CRA that they plan to pay the money back.

    Anyone making these arrangements with the CRA needs to:

    – take careful notes of any telephone conversations
    – save any emails in a safe place
    At the moment, the government is not charging interest on CERB money that people pay back.

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