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Help! I got a CERB repayment letter from the CRA

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit) was created by the federal government to assist people unable to work due to the impact of COVID-19. It was designed to help people cope with financial instability because of the business shutdowns happening across Canada.

But now, more than two years after the CERB program began, the CRA has begun to mail out letters to many of those people who benefited from the program, requesting a repayment of funds.  This has been a shock for some program recipients who believed the funds would never have to be repaid.

Why are Canadians receiving CERB repayment letters?

When Canadians were in a panic due to the seriousness of COVID, the federal government realized it needed to move quickly to assist them. That speed of approval allowed Canadians who may not have been aware they might not qualify to receive benefits to still complete the CERB online application and receive CERB funds quickly.

But some recipients of the CRA’s CERB repayment letter never even applied to the program for benefits. 

In a recent CTV News article, Sarah Milligan of London, Ont., reported she applied for employment insurance (EI) shortly after the pandemic started but was switched over to CERB automatically. Then, in early 2022 she received a CERB repayment letter stating she had a CERB overpayment and must repay $2,000.

The rising cost of living will make repayment more difficult

Unfortunately, this is coming at a time when Canadians are still trying to recover from COVID, both physically and financially, so an added expense like this only makes their situations worse. Add to this the reality of higher gasoline costs and skyrocketing weekly food prices at our local grocery stores (the highest rate of inflation in 40 years) and the result is that paycheques are not able to keep up with food, gas, and other monthly costs.

According to Global News, in a recent survey “nearly half of Canadians say they would be embarrassed to seek help if their financial situation was bad enough to consider bankruptcy.”

But the bottom line is that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

The truth about debt: you are not alone

In a recent press release from Equifax Canada, the effect of the pandemic and increasing inflation has resulted in some of the highest increases in credit card spending they’ve ever seen.

The reality is that is this happening to thousands of people, and there’s nothing wrong with getting help when you need it.

“The pandemic has impacted every Canadian in one way or another and some people don’t know who to turn to,” says Erez Cukierman, a Licensed insolvency Trustee and Partner at Farber Debt Solutions. “Ignoring the Canada Revenue Agency is not the best course of action – if they seize your bank account or garnish your wages that could have a huge impact on your life, especially if you are already struggling financially.”

3 tips for when you receive a CERB repayment letter

If you’re facing the stress of having to repay your pandemic benefits, here are some tips to help you get organized:

  1. Go through your financial records and collect all documentation related to the CERB application process. Keep it all together. 
  2. Print out bank account records from the pandemic timeframe and circle any CERB or CRB deposits.
  3. Create a simple budget with income at the top of the page and fixed expenses listed below.  Total both sections up to get a sense of your spending each month.

But the most important thing you can do is ask for help if you need it. Debt is much more common than you think, and you are not alone.

We’re here to help you resolve any financial struggles you may be going through.