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How to file your tax return this year: the resources available to help newcomers

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With tax season in full swing, advocates warn there are barriers facing newcomers and low-income earners trying to navigate an 'overwhelming' tax system.

When Augustine Akande moved to Canada from Nigeria about two years ago, he went to the Norquay Tax Clinic in Downtown Winnipeg to get some help filing his return.

"They have always been helpful, I think is a wonderful job that they do," he said Wednesday at the clinic, where he returned to file his taxes again this year.

While his tax filing wasn't too stressful, he said he knows that may not be the case for other newcomers.

"I find that the tax system here is a little bit complex," he said. "For newcomers who are just trying to understand how to file the tax, I think this place makes it possible for them to just walk in and get their tax filed without having to bother their head too much about what's in it."

The Norquay Tax Clinic is hosted by Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS) in Winnipeg. Organizers said it is one of the largest clinics in Canada.

"We're seeing easily between 100 and 125 individuals, households coming through in a day," said Morgan Marshall, the CFCS tax program coordinator.

It's one of several free tax clinics geared to help newcomers and modest-to-low-income earners in Winnipeg. The Canadian Revenue Agency has a list on its website of all the tax clinics across Manitoba, including several here in Winnipeg.

Marshall said these clinics are an important piece in helping remove barriers come tax time.

"It can also be an overwhelming system to try and navigate and figure out, you know, what documents do you need to pull together in order to actually file your taxes? And so the goal here is to try and minimize as many of those barriers as possible," she said.

The demand for the services is high. The Norquay Tax Clinic, which is a first-come-first-serve walk-in clinic, reached capacity by noon Wednesday.

Jenn Bogoch, who runs a free tax clinic with SEED Winnipeg, has also seen the demand.

"There's a huge need, and unfortunately we are not resourced sufficiently to be able to meet that need," she said, adding each week her tax clinic fills its appointment slots and has to turn away about 200 people.

She said the clinic helps Winnipeg's marginalized community make sure they get the benefits they are entitled to.

"Sometimes people don't realize – because their income is low or they might not even have any income – that they should still be filing a tax return," Bogoch said.

"Tax filing is incredibly important, not just to get your taxes filed, but because it's also the gateway to really important benefits, particularly for people living on a low income."

It's a similar need felt by hundreds of Ukrainian newcomers who have turned to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) in Manitoba to get their taxes done for the first time.

Ostap Scrypnyk, an advisor with UCC Manitoba, said they started their own tax clinic about two years ago.

"These documents aren't in Ukrainian, and so the newcomers were anxious to complete their tax declarations correctly," he told CTV News. "Last year we literally helped hundreds of people with their tax returns. And we're pretty busy this year as well."

The deadline to file your taxes this year is on April 30, 2024.

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