You may have heard the term “Fairness” in reference to Canada Revenue Agency’s Taxpayer Relief Guidelines. You might wonder why that is. Well, the answer is quite simple really. When the provisions were introduced, the taxpayer relief legislation was originally called the “fairness legislation”. The idea behind the original name was that the legislation would address situations or circumstances that might be unfair to a taxpayer.

So why the name change? When it comes to penalty and interest what CRA discovered along the way was that everyone has a different idea of what “fairness” means. But confusion among the public, or at least vague interpretations of what fairness means, wasn’t the only reason for the name change. It’s important to remember that penalty and interest relief are not the only functions of this legislation. The relief provisions also enable a taxpayer to apply for submission of, revocations to, or amendments to elections that may be beyond the ordinary three year limitation for adjustments. Similarly, a taxpayer can apply for refunds or reductions to amounts payable that are beyond the statute barred date, providing there is sufficient documentary evidence to support an unclaimed deduction or refund. So the term “fairness” needed to be broadened to provide a more complete description of the legislation.

The key to successful applications under what was formerly called the fairness legislation is to have a thorough understanding of the categories for relief, their definitions, and the decision-making criteria Canada Revenue Agency uses to determine eligibility. It’s not simply enough to write and ask in a general or roundabout way for relief. Having a complex and nuanced understanding of the categories and decision-making factors makes an enormous difference. Before applying for relief, understand how and what constitutes fairness. More information can be found by reading the guidelines.