The university’s Accounting and Finance Student Association (AFSA) has pivoted to a virtual and modified drop-off format for their free annual Tax Clinic as a result of the pandemic. The clinic will provide low-income individuals and families with free tax return services.
In the past, the clinic operated in Hagey Hall, “We used to occupy an entire lecture hall and file people’s returns on the spot. Our lines would be so long, they would circle around the lobby and out the door,” Eric Fong, CPA, CA (MAcc ’14), Tax Clinic Leader and UW graduate, said.
He explained that the virtual format is similar to the experience that clients would receive at an accounting firm.
Fong and Ben Ma, CPA, CFA (MAcc ’17), have been involved with the Tax Clinic since 2014 and 2013 respectively, and are leading the clinic.
“We have been working toward building the AFSA Tax Clinic into one of the top tax clinics in the region, with a focus toward delivering high quality work to students and members of the community,” Fong said.
The three-week clinic takes a year to plan, “We coordinate hundreds of volunteers, coordinate with the CRA, coordinate with clients, coordinate to book rooms, advertising, provide tax advice,” Chiranjeev Beniwal, Deputy Vice-President of Internal Services (IS) of AFSA, said.
Typically, the clinic has more than 200 volunteers who are trained prior to completing the tax returns.
Helen Wang, a first-year Accounting and Financial Management student and Internal Services Project Manager volunteering for the TaxClinic, said that Internal Services Deputy Vice Presidents – Beniwal and Yan Jin – work hard to mitigate any challenges; however, with the online nature of the event, “technical difficulties were bound to occur.”
“I know there was an issue with the Tax Clinic emails ending up in people’s spam inboxes, so they were missing what was sometimes vital information regarding training for volunteering,” Wang explained. “Both hosting and attending this event online has its challenges, but it is a great learning experience.”
The Tax Clinic is one of many involved in the Community Income Tax Program with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). AFSA’s Internal Services Committee applied to the CRA to ensure volunteers were given access to the appropriate tax filing software, while Internal Services “arranged for upper years from various accounting firms, such as EY and MNP, to guide the first-year students when doing tax returns,” Albert Li, AFSA Internal Services Project Manager, explained.
Hadi Rasoul, a first-year Accounting and Financial Management student and volunteer, completed the virtual training and tax-filing. “I felt the tax clinic was very insightful on the work I will be doing as a CPA professional,” Rasoul, an aspiring Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), said. “I also felt that the pacing of the workshop was adequate and Ben and Eric made sure to allocate time for questions.” He said he has not faced any major difficulties with the virtual format, given the past year of online learning, “I think the key thing to keep in mind, when volunteering online, is trying to make the best of it. It also helped that I tried to view the tax clinic as a learning opportunity for myself.”
In 2014, the clinic served 400 clients and saw rapid growth, serving 1200 clients in 2019. “As for how many we expect this year, that’s anyone’s guess – the online nature of the clinic makes everything unpredictable,” Beniwal said.
“Anyone over the age of majority may be eligible for the $300 climate action incentive. If they had a previous job, they should also file, as employers often withhold extra tax, and you could get a refund. If you have low/minimal income, you could get up to $313 through the GST/HST credit. If you pay rent or property tax, you could get up to $800 through the Ontario Energy Property Tax Credit,” Beniwal said. “This is quite literally free money up for grabs,”
AFSA has created a checklist for clients to ensure all necessary documents are provided. The clinic will provide guaranteed services for clients who fill out the form by Mar. 24 and cannot guarantee services if the form is filled out after this date. Both items can be found on the AFSA website.