Suzanne Lachance – Tax Trouper
This hardworking volunteer coordinates free tax clinics that help people navigate the challenges of tax season.
The adage rings true: nothing is certain except death and taxes. But for many people, tax season is filled with uncertainty, confusion and even fear. Finding, completing and filing the necessary forms by the deadline can be daunting at the best of times, but for those experiencing income insecurity or other life challenges, the task can be so overwhelming that they avoid filing taxes at all, sometimes for years.
For Suzanne Lachance, taking the stress out of tax season is an opportunity to improve people’s lives. Suzanne is the Dufferin-Caledon area volunteer co-ordinator for the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, a free tax clinic hosted by the Orangeville Public Library. CVITP’s trained volunteers help people with a modest income (roughly $35,000 or less for an individual and $45,000 or less for a couple) and a simple tax situation complete their tax returns correctly and on time.
“Income taxes are not easy for everyone,” Suzanne says. “It fills many people with anxiety, so we talk them through it, calm them down, and give them some confidence that it’s going to be okay.”
Suzanne, a Caledon resident with informal accounting experience in both her professional and family life, began volunteering with the CVITP five years ago after retiring from a long career in environmental health and safety. First as a volunteer and then as co-ordinator, she has gone above and beyond to help the program’s participants – including during pandemic restrictions – by organizing drop-in clinics, phone interviews, curbside drop-offs, and sometimes even driving to their homes to pick up paperwork.
She remembers one participant who had not filed taxes for a decade. He did, however, have a huge box of papers, which she patiently helped him sift through so he could file his taxes for the past four years and get back on track. “This is actually not so unusual; it’s surprisingly common for people to be behind on their taxes for a few years,” Suzanne says. “But it’s never too late.”
And it’s not just about filing on time: by looking at each participant’s situation, Suzanne and her team help identify credits and benefits people are often not aware they are eligible for. These include Ontario’s GST/HST Credit, the Trillium Benefit, the Seniors’ Home Safety Tax Credit, the Low-Income Workers Tax Credit and the Ontario Seniors Care at Home Tax Credit. Without filing tax returns, many people miss out on much-needed benefits like these and others.
From March through April, the team runs clinics twice a week at the Orangeville library and once a week at the Orangeville Seniors Centre, working with seniors, students, newcomers to Canada, and individuals with disabilities and those experiencing housing insecurity.
Many referrals come from organizations such as Community Living Dufferin, Services and Housing in the Province in Caledon, and the Orangeville Food Bank, and recently the number of participants has grown by 40 to 50 people a year. “I feel proud we are helping people improve their lives,” says Suzanne. “And we could not do this without the support of the Orangeville library staff, who are often a first point of contact for participants.”
The CVITP is supported by the Canada Revenue Agency, which provides volunteers with training and computer software. For details, check the Orangeville Public Library website in about mid-February or visit the CRA website.