CRA Audit Penalties: The Consequences for Non-Compliance

Asian businessman holding his head in front of a calculator due to CRA audit penalties in a store.

CRA Audit Penalties: The Consequences for Non-Compliance

Sebastien Prost, CPA

Tax audits conducted by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) ensure compliance with tax laws, but they can lead to significant penalties for those found in violation. When a taxpayer does not fulfill their responsibilities, such as filing returns accurately and on time, the CRA may impose a range of penalties. These penalties are designed to deter non-compliance and encourage taxpayers to correct any oversights or errors voluntarily.

Under the CRA’s framework, penalties can range from fines for late filings to more severe charges for repeated failures to report income or for making false statements on returns. In cases of voluntary disclosure, prior to any contact or investigation by the CRA, individuals may receive relief from penalties as a measure to promote transparency and voluntary compliance. It’s crucial for taxpayers to be informed about their rights during an audit and to understand the potential consequences of non-compliance.

Understanding CRA Audit Penalties

When an individual or a business is audited by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), it is essential to be aware of potential penalties that may be imposed. Penalties are typically levied in cases where an audit uncovers inaccuracies, omissions, or deliberate mistatements on tax returns.

Types of Penalties:

  • Failure to File: If the taxpayer fails to file a return by the deadline, they can face a penalty of 5% of the balance owed, plus 1% for each full month the return is late, up to a maximum of 12 months.
  • Gross Negligence: In cases of gross negligence, the penalty can be as much as 50% of the understated tax or the overstated credits related to the false statement or omission.

Interest Charges:
The CRA also charges interest on unpaid balances, including penalties, beginning the day after the taxes were due.

Penalties for Non-compliance:

Failing to file an information return
Up to $2,500
Repeated failure to report income
20% of the amount that was not reported
Making a false statement or omission
50% of the understated tax or the overstated credits related to the false statement or omission
Tax evasion conviction
Can lead to prosecution and fines up to 200% of the evaded taxes and potentially up to 5 years imprisonment


The CRA encourages voluntary disclosure of any mistakes or omissions. If the taxpayer comes forward before an audit or investigation starts, they may avoid penalties and prosecution. However, they are still obligated to pay the taxes due plus interest.

Types of CRA Audit Penalties

When individuals or businesses violate Canadian tax laws, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may impose several penalties. Understanding these penalties is crucial for taxpayers to maintain compliance and avoid significant fines.

Failure to File Penalty

The CRA enforces a Failure to File Penalty if a taxpayer does not submit their tax return by the due date. This penalty is 5% of the balance owed, plus 1% of the balance owed for each full month the return is late, for up to 12 months.

Gross Negligence Penalty

Taxpayers may face a Gross Negligence Penalty if they knowingly, or under circumstances amounting to gross negligence, make false statements or omissions on their tax returns. The penalty can be as severe as 50% of the understated tax or the overstated credits related to the false statement or omission.

Third-Party Penalties

Third-Party Penalties may be imposed on individuals or advisors who are found complicit in making false statements or omissions on someone else’s tax returns. These can range significantly based on the degree of involvement and the tax amount impacted by the false statement.

Calculating CRA Penalties

When it comes to calculating penalties for audits conducted by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the consequences are determined by the nature of the non-compliance and the taxpayer’s behavior.

Interest Charges

The CRA imposes interest charges on overdue taxes from the date they were due until the full payment is made. The interest rate applied is determined by the CRA and can change every three months based on prescribed interest rates. Compound daily interest is charged on unpaid tax debts, making timely payment crucial to avoid significant interest accruals.

Penalty Amounts Based on Behaviour

Penalties levied by the CRA are contingent on the behavior of the taxpayer. They range from:

  • Repeated failure to report income typically incurs a penalty of 20% (federal and provincial) of the unpaid tax associated with the omission.
  • Gross negligence may result in penalties up to 50% of the unpaid tax or the benefit from the false statement or omission.

Taxpayers are expected to exercise due diligence and maintain accurate records to prevent these penalties.

Repeated Failure to Report Income Penalty

If an individual fails to report income in a tax year and had failed to report an amount in any of the three preceding tax years, the Repeated Failure to Report Income Penalty applies. The penalty is equal to the lesser of:

  • 10% of the amount (20% in total with provincial penalty) that was not reported on the current year return.
  • 50% of the difference between the understated tax and the amount of tax withheld related to the unreported income.

This penalty underscores the importance of reporting all income each year to avoid compounding penalties.

Consequences of CRA Penalties

When the Canada Revenue Agency imposes penalties, the consequences can extend beyond immediate financial ramifications. These penalties can have lasting impacts on an individual’s credit rating, legal standing, and, for businesses, their operations and reputation.

Impact on Credit Rating

Penalties imposed by the CRA, such as those for gross negligence or failure to comply with tax obligations, can have a negative effect on an individual’s credit rating. Hefty fines and ongoing debts owed to the CRA may be reported to credit bureaus, leading to a lower credit score. This can adversely affect one’s ability to secure loans, mortgages, or other forms of credit.

Legal Implications

Legally, failure to pay CRA penalties can result in more severe consequences. Court actions, including liens on property or assets, and in extreme cases, imprisonment, can be pursued by the CRA for outstanding tax debts. Legal costs and the potential for further fines complicate matters for the taxpayer involved.

Reputation and Business Operations

For businesses, the repercussions of CRA penalties may extend to their reputation and day-to-day operations. Reputational damage can deter customers and affect business relationships, while financial strain from penalties can impact cash flow and business sustainability. Compliance becomes a key focus to avoid disruptions that could arise from CRA audits and the subsequent penalties.

Avoiding CRA Audit Penalties

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) imposes penalties for non-compliance. Taxpayers can avoid these by adhering to regulations regarding record-keeping, timely filing, voluntary disclosures, and professional advice.

Accurate Record Keeping

Maintaining thorough and precise records is essential. The CRA requires that all taxpayers keep documents for a period of six years that support the information provided in tax returns. These records should be detailed and organized, as they may be reviewed during an audit.

Timely Filing of Returns

Taxpayers should file their tax returns by the due date to avoid late filing penalties. Keeping track of deadlines and ensuring all tax obligations are met on time can significantly reduce the risk of penalties.

Voluntary Disclosures Program

The Voluntary Disclosures Program (VDP) offers taxpayers a chance to correct inaccuracies in their tax affairs. Disclosures must be complete and voluntary before an audit or investigation starts. If accepted by the CRA, the taxpayer may avoid penalties and prosecution.

Seeking Professional Advice

Tax laws can be complex, and seeking the guidance of tax professionals may prevent costly mistakes. Experts can provide insights into the audit process and help taxpayers remain compliant with CRA regulations, thereby helping to minimize the likelihood of penalties.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions address common concerns about the repercussions, relief measures, and the likelihood of facing an audit by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), as well as the penalties involved for various tax infractions.

What are the consequences of being audited by the CRA?

If a taxpayer is audited, the CRA may identify inaccuracies or discrepancies in tax filings which could lead to reassessments, and potentially, the levy of penalties and interest. Repeated failures to file returns can result in increased penalties under subsection 163(1) of the Income Tax Act (ITA).

How can interest and penalties be forgiven by the CRA?

The CRA may waive or cancel penalties and interest under taxpayer relief provisions if the taxpayer fits certain criteria, such as extraordinary circumstances, inability to pay due to financial hardship, or a CRA error. Application for this relief is subject to CRA guidelines and is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

What is considered gross negligence by the CRA and the associated penalties?

Gross negligence involves willful blindness or intentional disregard of the law in tax filings. The CRA penalizes gross negligence by imposing a penalty of up to 50% of the unpaid tax or the overstated credits related to the false statement or omission.

What is the likelihood of being selected for an audit by the CRA?

The selection for a CRA audit is not random and can be triggered by risk indicators such as significant changes in expense claims or income levels, discrepancies between filed information and third-party data, or a history of non-compliance. Some audits are also conducted as part of CRA’s random sampling.

Are there criminal repercussions for owing the CRA a significant amount of money?

Owing the CRA a significant amount of money in itself is not a criminal offense; however, tax evasion, which includes willfully hiding income or providing false information, can lead to criminal charges and imprisonment.

How are penalty amounts determined by the CRA for tax infractions?

Penalty amounts determined by the CRA vary based on the nature and severity of the infraction. These can include a fixed dollar amount or a percentage of the unpaid tax depending on the specifics of the violation, such as late filings, omissions, false statements, or failure to report income.

Sebastien Prost, CPA

Written by Sebastien Prost, CPA

Seb Prost, a CPA with over 10 years of experience in taxation and accounting, offers a unique blend of insights from his time at the CRA and his experience in public practice. Originally from QC and now based in Nelson, BC, he specializes in guiding Canadian startups, SaaS companies and other online businesses for all of their accounting and taxation needs.

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