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TAPS untangles taxes for those most in need

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Over the past decade, declining service levels at government tax offices have left many Canadians who struggle to do their taxes out in the cold. Luckily for those in the Greater Victoria region, the Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) has stepped into the breach with the Volunteer Income Tax Project. This project provides free, year-round, face-to-face income tax preparation to the region’s most vulnerable residents.

Between September 2012 and August 2013, the program allowed 974 low-income community members to receive a staggering $1.5 million in federal and provincial tax benefits, money that might otherwise have gone unclaimed. This community impact has been immense, and Vancity is behind TAPS 100 per cent. Vancity has provided Community Project Grants to the program in 2012 and 2013 and volunteers from the local branch have stepped in to help with the tax preparation. To community members facing financial challenges, the TAPS program is a lifeline that has helped them access the resources that are rightfully theirs.

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“It's just so great to know that Vancity understands and values the service that we provide,” says Kelly Newhook, TAPS executive director. “Because of Vancity’s support for this project, we’re able to then support our community in turn. Vancity gets it.”

Kelly is grateful to be able to partner with an institution that understands the community’s needs. “There can be a lot of barriers that prevent people from doing their taxes,” she says. “Low literacy levels, mental health conditions, fear of numbers and forms, having English as a second language, and many others. Maybe if you’ve moved a lot, or if you’re homeless, putting the pieces together can be challenging. People don’t know where to begin.”

Once tax barriers are overcome, the benefits to individuals and their families can be enormous. “One guy who just walked out of here hadn't done his taxes in nine years,” says program volunteer Tony Pullman. “He suffers from PTSD from the armed forces, and since then he has bounced from job to job. We just did his tax return and he was due $6,500." Understandably, the recipient was delighted. “Most people have no idea that the government owes them this amount of money,” says Tony.

Having a current tax return has knock-on effects as well. Benefit programs such as MSP and subsidized housing require potential recipients to do their taxes before they receive any benefits. Filing taxes promptly and correctly is therefore doubly important. As a result, TAPS Income Tax Project could mean the difference between a roof over someone’s head or a life on the streets.

“There is a big segment of Victoria that is low-income,” says Vancity branch manager Miriam Valois. “To have this available, where they can increase their yearly income as well as receive benefits that they've never had before is fantastic, and we want to support it in any way we can.”