Making a voluntary disclosure to the tax authorities

June 25, 2024by Akmin

The Canadian tax system is a “self-assessing” one, in which taxpayers are expected (and, in most cases, required) to file an individual income tax return each spring. On that return the taxpayer provides a summary of income earned during the previous calendar year and claims available deductions and credits. Those calculations determine the amount of tax owed for the year and any amount owed must then, of course, be paid on or before April 30.

Although the percentage of taxpayers who are required to file a return but do not do so is relatively small, a percentage as low as 1% of non-filers in a population of 40 million can still amount to nearly 400,000 required returns not filed. There are a number of reasons why taxpayers don’t file a return – sometimes it’s just procrastination, or a lack of knowledge of how and when to get the return filed. In other cases, taxpayers don’t believe that they are required to file a return – for instance, where they have little or no income for the year.

However, in the majority of instances in which taxpayers don’t file a return, it’s likely because taxes are owed and they are unable to pay those taxes on time or in full – or at all. In such situations, it’s tempting to conclude that it’s better not to file in the hope, perhaps, that the CRA will overlook or somehow not notice the delinquency. That’s not, however, a realistic conclusion. Where a Canadian resident earns income, the payor of that income must file an income slip (T4 for employment income, T5 for interest income, etc.) with the Canada Revenue Agency, on which the recipient of that income is identified by name, address, and social insurance number. Where those slips don’t match up with income reported on a return for the year by the taxpayer, the omission will probably come to light.

Although each such instance of non-compliance represents lost revenue to the Canadian government, the resources needed to track down each and every instance of non-compliance simply aren’t available, especially since in many cases the amount recovered may be less than the costs which must be incurred to recover that amount.

With all of that in mind, the Canada Revenue Agency instituted a program – the Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP) – intended to encourage non-compliant taxpayers to come forward and put their tax affairs in order. The incentive to do so arises from the fact that in most cases, while taxpayers who participate in the VDP program have to pay outstanding tax amounts owed, plus some interest, they can avoid both other interest charges, some penalties which would normally be imposed, and the risk of criminal prosecution.

To qualify for such relief under the VDP, an application made with respect to non-compliance with income tax filing and payment obligations must:

  • be voluntary (meaning that it is done before the CRA initiates any enforcement action related to the information to be disclosed);
  • be complete (that is, includes all relevant information and documentation);
  • involve the application or potential application of a penalty;
  • include information that is at least one year or one reporting period past due; and
  • include payment of the estimated tax owing (taxpayers who are unable to do so can request a payment arrangement).

The VDP program includes two separate “tracks” for income tax disclosures – the Limited Program and the General Program – and the kind and extent of relief available depends on the track to which a particular application is assigned.

While the Canada Revenue Agency will ultimately make the determination of whether an application should proceed under the Limited or the General Program on a case-by-case basis, there are guidelines in place. The CRA’s intention is to restrict the Limited Program to instances in which taxpayers intentionally avoided their tax obligations (as distinct from inadvertence), or there is conduct on the part of the taxpayer which amounts to gross negligence. In making its determination of the appropriate track for a disclosure, the factors which the CRA will consider include the following:

  • the dollar amounts involved;
  • the number of years of non-compliance;
  • the sophistication of the taxpayer;
  • how quickly the taxpayer acted to correct their non-compliance after becoming aware of it;
  • whether the disclosure was made after the taxpayer became aware of the CRA’s intended specific focus on that particular area of taxpayer compliance; and
  • whether efforts were made to avoid detection through the use of offshore vehicles or other means.

Those whose applications are accepted under the Limited Program will be required to pay outstanding tax balances owed, plus interest, and will be subject to penalties. They will not, however, be subject to criminal prosecution and will be exempted from the more stringent penalties which usually apply in cases of gross negligence on the part of the taxpayer.

Taxpayers whose conduct does not consign them to the Limited Program will instead be considered under the General Program. Under that Program, no penalties will be charged and no criminal prosecutions will take place. As well, the CRA will provide partial interest relief, specifically for the years preceding the three most recent years of non-compliance. For example, a taxpayer who makes an application to the VDP and who has failed to file returns for the 2017 through 2022 taxation years may be provided with interest relief with respect to tax arrears owed for the 2017, 2018, and 2019 taxation years. Such relief is generally equal to 50% of interest normally owed – in other words, the taxpayer will be required to pay only half of the interest charges which would otherwise be levied for those years. No interest relief will, however, be provided on tax amounts owed for the three most recent (2020, 2021, and 2022) taxation years. Since interest charges levied by the CRA are, by law, higher than current commercial rates (for instance, the rate levied for July, August, and September of 2024 is 9%) and interest charged is compounded daily, having interest amounts forgiven, even in part, can make a significant difference to the overall tax bill faced by the taxpayer.

In order to benefit from the VDP, taxpayers must first make an application to the Program. That application must include payment of the estimated taxes owing, as a condition of participation in the VDP. Where a taxpayer is financially unable to make that tax payment, he or she can request that the CRA consider a payment arrangement.

The decision to apply to the VDP and to “come clean” about all previous tax transgressions is something that most taxpayers will likely consider with considerable trepidation. Those who are unsure about whether they want to move forward with a VDP application have the option of using the CRA’s “pre-disclosure discussion service”. As the name implies, that service allows taxpayers to participate in preliminary discussions with a CRA official, on an anonymous basis, to gain some knowledge about the VDP program, the process involved, and the potential relief available.

Taxpayers who decide to move forward with an application to the VDP can complete and file Form RC199 Voluntary Disclosures Program Application, which is available on the CRA website at Once the application is received, the CRA will check to make certain that the applicant meets all the criteria required for a valid application, and that all of the required information, documentation, and payment have been sent. The next step is for the CRA to determine the program (Limited or General) to which the application should be assigned, and the taxation year(s) for which relief is being considered. At each step the taxpayer will be provided with written notice of the CRA’s decisions.

If the decision made is that the application is not eligible for the VDP, the taxpayer will also be advised in writing, with reasons, of the CRA’s decision to deny the application.

Where the decision made by the Agency is one with which the taxpayer does not agree, they are entitled to ask for a second review of the application. It is also possible for a taxpayer to ask the Federal Court to review the decision and to direct the CRA to re-consider the VDP application. However, a taxpayer who wishes to pursue their application to the extent of filing such a Federal Court application is well advised to obtain legal advice before doing so.

Finally, taxpayers should recognize that the VDP Program can’t be used as a kind of “get out of jail free card” with respect to repeated failures to meet tax filing and payment obligations. The CRA’s expectations are that taxpayers who have benefitted from the VDP will thereafter meet their tax obligations, and a second review will be provided for the same taxpayer only in situations where the second application relates to a different matter than the first, and where the circumstances giving rise to the second application were beyond the taxpayer’s control.

Detailed information on the VDP can be found on the CRA website at Additional details with respect to the  Program are also outlined in the CRA’s Information Circular IC00-1R6 – Voluntary Disclosures Program, which is available on the same website at IC00-1R6 – Voluntary Disclosures Program –

The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.