The rules and issues around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to evolve and information changes consistently. Please take note of when our content was written and always go to the sources we’ve provided for the most current guidance.
There’s lots of information about the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) circulating right now and we know that sometimes an abundance of information may become confusing or overwhelming to navigate. To help, today we’re highlighting some important, lesser-known features of the CERB that may have been buried in the noise.
We know that this article is quite long. We tried to pull as much useful information as possible from the Government of Canada websites. It is possible that this content will continue to change. Find the most up to date info on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) page.
What is the CERB?
The CERB is administered by the federal government and may provide you with temporary income support of $500/week for a maximum of 16 weeks if you’ve lost work due to COVID-19.
Once you’re caught up, read on!
So, here are some things you should be aware of if you’re applying for the CERB:
Apply through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or Service Canada, not both:
The benefit is being jointly delivered by the CRA and Service Canada, but you should only apply to one of the two.
To find out which, use the Federal Government’s CERB portal (find it under get started) which will ask you a few questions about your past employment and point you in the right direction.
The benefit is taxable:
The payments are taxable, and no tax is deducted at the source. This means you report CERB payments as income when you file your income tax for the 2020 tax year.
You should know that most other forms of income are taxable too, the difference here is simply when you’ll be taxed. (I.e. if you normally work for an employer, you’re probably used to having taxes deducted before you even see the money on payday.) If you’re receiving the CERB, this can be helpful to keep in mind, so you’re not surprised when you file your income taxes for 2020.
Receiving a payment doesn’t mean you’re eligible:
Right now, if you apply for the benefit, you’ll likely be sent financial aid. However, if you have applied in error, come tax time, you’ll be expected to repay the money (which can be an unpleasant surprise if you’re not prepared). For that reason, it’s a good idea to double-check their Q&A which details eligibility requirements.
Some people are also reporting receiving more than one payment for a four-week benefit period (i.e. two $2,000 cheques for the same person, for the same period). This can sometimes happen if a person has applied for the benefit through both the CRA and Service Canada, instead of only the appropriate channel. If you receive more than you’re entitled to, expect to return or pay the excess back.
There’s no penalty for receiving a payment you weren’t entitled to (but you will have to return the payment):
A follow up to the above: it’s important to know that there’s no penalty for receiving a payment in error (including either of the above situations). However, you will have to return or repay any CERB benefits that you received but that you were not entitled to.
You can find out more about how to return a CERB payment on the Government website (it’s the fifth option under the “Payment” tab).
The benefit is available for 16 weeks, but those don’t have to be taken consecutively:
The calculation of the 16 weeks begins with the first week for which you’re receiving the Benefit. However, you don’t need to take all 16 weeks back to back, once you’ve applied for the first period.
For example, you could receive the Benefit for 4 weeks beginning March 15th (the earliest available period) and then reapply for a second 4-week benefit period a few months later, as you need it.
It’s important that you know that taking a break from collecting the benefit does not restart your 16-week count. If you’re eligible, you’re entitled to up to 16 weeks total (between March 15th, 2020 and October 3rd, 2020) regardless of whether you take breaks, or if you use all 16 weeks consecutively.
You must renew payments for each period:
The renewal of payments is not automatic. You must confirm your eligibility for each 4-week eligibility period you would like to receive the CERB for.
To do this, you can re-apply online or by phone (1-833-966-2099). If you’re receiving the Benefit through Service Canada, you must complete your EI Report Card to confirm eligibility.
We know that there’s a lot to consider during what can be a difficult and unsettling time, so we hope that spotlighting this information helps!
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Where do we fit in?
Yes, we are a provincial regulator. We are responsible for some very specific transactions in BC. We aren’t experts on COVID-19. We won’t – and shouldn’t – ever give medical or legal advice. But we are in a unique circumstance right now and we want to help people navigate the current reality. We don’t have all the answers, but we will do our best to share information from reliable sources, put it in ways that are easy to digest and understand, provide referrals and help you navigate this situation.
About Consumer Protection BC:
We are responsible for regulating specific industries and certain consumer transactions in British Columbia. If your concern is captured under the laws we enforce, we will use the tools at our disposal to assist you. If we can’t help you directly, we will be happy to provide you with as much information as possible. Depending on your concern, another organization may be the ones to speak to; other times, court or legal assistance may be the best option. Explore our website at www.consumerprotectionbc.ca.