Financial Literacy and Free Tax Prep

Big Returns: Update from BC ACORN Tax Site

Lead volunteer Jane Tseng at BC ACORN's tax site. Since 2007 ACORN members across the country have been helping their neighbors file their tax returns. 

Here's what that has meant for low and moderate income communities in BC's lower mainland: 

  • 10,961 returns filed. 
  • $12,301,800 delivered to people in the form of their returns, credits and benefits. 
  • A quarter of the returns processed were from past years - meaning they likely wouldn't have been submitted without the help of BC ACORN's volunteers and members. 
  • Approximately $790,000 saved by community members who would otherwise have paid to have their returns prepared. 
  • 2/3rds of the people who came to get their taxes done were also engaged in ACORN Canada's campaigns for financial justice

ACORN members are grateful for the support of the many volunteers who make this service possible, and for the generous financial support of Vancity Credit Union

CBC: Tax clinic flooded with calls for advice

A free tax clinic for low-income earners says it is being flooded with about 40 calls a day from people seeking help with their taxes.

The advocacy group ACORN Canada says it books as many appointments as it can to provide tax advice. It offers the free clinics in cities across the country.

Ottawa resident Phyllis Andrews said Monday she remembers the first time she read a tax return.

It was 12 years ago, and she had just moved to Canada from the Caribbean.

"I was confused because I'd never done taxes and the questions on the paper, I didn't know what I was doing," Andrews said.

A few years ago, she sought help from the free tax clinic run by ACORN, and that was the first time she found out she was eligible for tax breaks.

In fact, a study by local statistician Richard Shillington found that five per cent of eligible families are not receiving their child tax benefit, and that's worth about $1,200 a year. 

Ottawa EMC: ACORN launches free tax clinic, goal is poverty reduction

EMC news - A free tax return clinic will be available once again this year for low and moderate income individuals and new immigrants in Ottawa starting on Feb. 28.

Getting ready for the influx of calls to the office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) on Montreal Road, members announced their free tax clinics on Feb. 16.

ACORN Ottawa members and fellow tax clinic users, Kathleen Fortin and Dave Thomasson are grateful for the clinics and want everyone who needs aid with their tax returns to know ACORN is there to help.


"This is all about poverty reduction and helping put more money into people's pockets," Fortin said. "It is an excellent service that saves people a lot of money."

Volunteer tax program co-ordinator, Keisha Lim, encourages people to call a book an appointment.

"It could take up to three days for us to call you back, but we will," Lim said.

Completely volunteer-driven, the free clinics started in 2009 and ACORN reports they have helped more than 1,800 people file their tax returns in the past four years.

Helping Families Save for Their Children's Education

Across the country, hundreds of thousands of families that should be receiving money for education savings through the Canada Learning Bond aren't getting what they deserve because of barriers to participation.

Over the last year, ACORN Canada members and staff have contacted 6400 people with information about what the CLB is, and how to apply. We've worked in our communities, and with banks and credit unions, to reduce barriers to participation. Because of this work, hundreds of thousands of dollars will flow to low and moderate income communities to help pay for post-secondary education. Beyond what's happened already, an overwhelming majority of the people we talked to are continuing to spread information about education savings to their friends, family, and neighbours.

Contact your local ACORN office if you have any questions.

Metro Vancouver ACORN & Vancity: Partners in Poverty Reduction

An innovative partnership between Metro Vancouver ACORN and Vancity Credit Union is reducing poverty and strengthening communities across Metro Vancouver.

The program creates an integrated approach that couples' free income tax preparation, financial literacy training, leadership development and involvement in community campaigns.  The program works by using free income tax preparation as an intake tool to find community members who could benefit from advanced financial literacy or leadership development training - then engaging them in these services.

The program’s results speak for themselves: 1612 taxes prepared and over $2,250,000.00 in returns filled for low and moderate income families.  Even more impressive is that 23% of the returns were back-year taxes done community members that our outreach staff and organizers engaged. This has resulted in over $500,000 that otherwise would not have been returned to the local economies - and families struggling to make ends meet.

Many of the individuals who came through the tax site also became active participants in BC ACORN’s campaigns, in particular the ground breaking Living Wage Policy that was recently adopted in New Westminster, BC.  Participants also become involved in campaigns for improved childcare and disability support programs and have benefited from Financial  Literacy Courses that were also delivered in partnership with Vancity Credit Union.

Free Tax Prep and Financial Literacy

ACORN Canada is currently expanding our Free Tax Prepeeration and Financial Literacy programming. We have built on the success of our FITS Project (free income tax sites) which involved creating storefronts and a community presence for financial literacy training.  In 2007, 2008, and 2009 ACORN collaboratively ran FITS free tax preparation centers in both Toronto and the Greater Vancouver area that were open six days a week at times convenient for working people, this past tax season. We prepared taxes for low- and moderate-income families, linking them with unrealized benefits such as the GST credit, CCTB and the Canadian Employment Credit.

The cornerstone of this work is our targeted outreach campaign, for which outreach staff and trained community leaders went door-to-door talking with families and asking a series of questions to determine whether families filed taxes, met the criteria for other benefits eligibility, and/or used a commercial tax preparation service or a rapid refund loan, and at what cost.

We are now modeling formal financial literacy and asset development classes on this approach by engaging low income people on the doors and in their neighbourhoods.  We feel this is a groundbreaking approach to building community wealth and economic capacity in Canada's low income neighbourhoods.