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Alberta Wildfires: Tax Relief and Enhanced Donations

As drones flew over Alberta searching for clues about what caused the devastating wildfires in the Fort McMurray area, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) announced it would offer tax relief to those affected.

fire

The move is part of CRA’s standard policy of immediately evaluating measures that can be taken to help taxpayers when disasters occur. It’s been reported that around 90,000 people were forced from their homes and more than 2,400 structures were burned by the fires, at least 10% of Fort McMurray’s buildings.

The steps the government is taking to ease the tax burden of those affected by the fires are:

  • Immediately suspending all collections, audit-related activities and administrative correspondence,
  • Cancelling all penalties and interest for those who can’t file their tax returns or pay amounts they owe,
  • Setting up telephone agents who can request relief for taxpayers and provide advice relating to lost, destroyed or damaged records (individuals can call 1-800-959-8281; businesses can call 1-800-959-5525), and
  • Working with Canada Post to ensure that taxpayers expecting a tax refund or benefit payment have secure access to their mail following the suspension of delivery to Fort McMurray (visit Canada Post service alert webpage for more information).

Your Donations Are Now Worth More

In addition, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government will match individual charitable contributions made from May 2 to May 31 to the Canadian Red Cross in support of the Fort McMurray disaster relief efforts. The province of Alberta is also matching Red Cross donations. “As a result, for every dollar donated by Canadians, the Red Cross will receive a total of $3,” noted Prime Minister Trudeau.

“The outpouring of goodwill and compassion we have already seen from Canadians across the country has not only been inspirational, but stands as a testament to who we are as a nation,” he added.

Canadians wishing to assist those affected by the disaster can also donate to registered charities other than the Red Cross. Consult the CRA Charities Listings http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/lstngs/menu-eng.html to find eligible organizations. Your donations, of course, come with tax credits.

Insurance Claims

In addition to tax relief and donations, individuals and businesses in the devastated area are filing claims with their insurance companies. Many insurers have sent mobile emergency centres to the area to take claims and hand out cheques for emergency living expenses.

The damages policies cover can range from the total loss of a residence to the costs of cleaning smoky carpets and replacing food in a refrigerator. The amounts paid for fire damage generally will be calculated based on such factors as the type of damage, value of goods in the house and the type of policy.

If you, or someone you know, are preparing to claim losses from this disaster, here are some tips from the Insurance Bureau of Canada:

  1. You don’t have to file a claim immediately.

    A myth circulating is that if you don’t file immediately, you won’t get anything. The claims process begins when the amount of damage is known. For many, the extent of the damage they’ve suffered from the wildfires won’t be known for some time. Nevertheless, they can still file their claims in the coming weeks.

  2. If you have insurance, you’re probably covered.

    Most home and business insurance policies cover fire damage.

  3. Check in with your insurer on a regular basis.

    Many insurance policies provide coverage for reasonable additional living expenses, which people are entitled to as soon as they’re evacuated. Getting in touch with your insurance rep as soon as possible will help you get the process started quickly.

  4. Know what’s in your policy.

    You need to understand what you’re entitled to. Typical home insurance policies are comprehensive, basic/named perils, broad and no frills. Wording and what’s covered in individual policies vary from one insurer to another. Home insurance policies include personal liability coverage and some comprehensive policies even cover damages to vehicles.

  5. Keep detailed records.

    Keeping receipts and other records might be the last thing on your mind, but save you a lot of headaches down the road when you’re dealing with your insurer. Buy a small notebook and jot down everything, from meals and cleanup costs to travel and gasoline.

    You’ll need to provide a reasonable list of the contents of your home. Write down items as soon as they occur to you. Consider walking through stores looking for items that match your own and taking pictures. If possible, collect receipts, photos and other proofs of purchase.

  6. Plan to prove damage if you need to rent a car.

    According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, if there’s no proof a vehicle is damaged, you can’t claim a loss. One suggestion is to use some of the living expenses your insurer pays to rent a car until you can prove damage. Save the receipts and talk with the insurance company claims adjuster when things are settled.

And of course, consult with your financial advisers. They can help you file forms with the CRA and insurance companies and offer advice for getting through this terrible time.

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