Tax information disclosure narrower than it appears

A man complained that he was being forced to provide his province’s drug insurance program with his income tax information before receiving the benefits.

This is a provincial drug insurance program providing financial assistance to residents who need help paying for prescription drugs. The program’s level of assistance is tied to the family’s net income—the less you earn, the more help you receive. Not surprisingly, the program verifies applicants’ income by seeking their consent for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to release their income information to the insurance program.

However, the consent form is very broad and appears to allow the program to see virtually all an individual’s tax return. The privacy investigator followed up with CRA’s Federal and Provincial Affairs Division. Staff explained that the breadth of the consent was dictated by the wording contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Ministry of Health. The key words in the consent form are “relevant to and solely for the purpose of determining, verifying and administering my level of benefit…”

To determine just what information meets those criteria, the privacy investigator examined the MOU and confirmed that CRA provides only three income amounts to the program: lines 236—Net Income; 303—Married Amount, and 5105—Net Income of Spouse as Reported Under GST Credit.

The complainant was satisfied with the investigator’s findings and appreciative of the Office’s efforts to determine how the program worked. He did not need any further action and the complaint was considered settled in the course of investigation.

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