Ottawa Citizen: Group offers fee-based tax service to subsidize free returns for low-income clients

Posted January 23, 2016

An Ottawa social activist group has launched a new tax return service for middle- and upper-income earners to help the group cover the costs of similar services it offers low-income clients.
ACORN (Ottawa Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has done tax returns for low-income citizens for eight years, but the growing demand for the free service has prompted them to launch a social enterprise called the Tax Collective.
The group describes the Collective as an affordable, cost-recovery program, to help moderate- and upper-income earners prepare their income taxes.
“One of the things we discussed with the board this year was how to better support our tax services that we offer for people at the very lower (income level), a free service,” said Mavis Finnamore, an Ottawa ACORN board member.
“But we also had to figure out that we were being overloaded with staffing people and we had to justify our office costs. So we decided to change our fee structure.”
Single people earning $30,000 or less a year will continue to be eligible to have their returns done for free, as will those with an annual family income of below $40,000.
The organization helped more than 1,800 low-income citizens file their returns last year. 
An ACORN spokesperson said the free returns cost $76 each on average to prepare.
People with moderate and upper incomes will have to pay to have their taxes done but it will be at a lower cost than other tax preparation businesses. For example, singles with an income of between $30,000 and $60,000 can expect to pay $50 for a return.
The organization said payment will be on contributions will be based on a flat contribution level, increasing according to complexity.
The official said there is no income ceiling, although they might suggest a “super-complicated” return be taken to professional preparers.
ACORN said preparation services have already begun, although e-filing for 2015 returns must wait because the service is not ready from the government yet.
“We are currently filing for any previous year returns for everyone, and we will be filing for 2015 as soon as we get the notice of E-filing activation,” the spokesperson said. 
Finnamore added middle income earners will appreciate the affordable service because “they are being pressed like the rest of us.”
“Anybody who’s looked at the papers have shuddered at the price of food going up. People are really scrutinizing their expenses now, and tax services really aren’t high on a lot of people’s budgets. But it still has to be done one way or the other.”
Article by Paula McCooey for the Ottawa Citizen