The 2021 edition of the community volunteer income tax program (CVITP) has been launched and is being offered virtually.

For over 17 years, CVITP has been providing a valued free service for residents who have low income and a simple tax return.

In keeping with physical distancing guidelines, there will be no face-to-face meetings. Instead, volunteers will receive all documentation electronically and conduct meetings over the phone.

The service is a collaboration between Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and the Canada Revenue Agency.

Tracy Tilma, who coordinates the program for FCSS, says volunteers prepared 508 tax returns last year.

"That's pretty big. I think it was slightly up the year before but because of COVID, there was a lot of confusion about whether we were open or the program was happening."

Cochrane has been fortunate to have the same two volunteers anchor the program from the start.

"They've been doing it ever since we started this program. I think it gives a lot of returning customers peace of mind. They've come to rely on this, and they really value the volunteers, their time, and they trust them. It's been a really good program for the community."

Already, about 120 people have signed up this year. It runs year-round but with tax returns due on Apr. 30, this is the peak season.

Tilma says preparing even the simplest of tax returns can be overwhelming

There are many important boxes to check off to make sure you capitalize on government benefits like the Child Tax Benefit, GST rebate, Old Age Security benefits, and climate tax rebates.

Some haven't filed their income tax returns for years, and sometimes there's a pleasant surprise awaiting them at the end of the ordeal.

"Some of those clients didn't really realize they've had a lot of money that's been sitting there, waiting for them from different years. It's kind of nice. They're shocked to actually get some money back in their pocket, although that's not always the case."

To find out more about eligibility requirements and what you need to get started, phone FCSS at 403-851-2250.