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Free tax clinic helps Newmarket low-income residents access government benefits

The H&R Block program, which includes a partnership with Inn From the Cold, often brings 'tears of happiness,' says district manager
2022 03 18 Returning Hope
Mark Schwartz, district manager of H&R Block, stands outside Inn From the Cold, a Newmarket shelter where his team has set up to provide a free tax clinic.

A program in partnership with Newmarket's Inn From The Cold is helping low-income locals access benefits by filing their tax returns. 

H&R Block’s Returning Hope initiative is run at 13 partner organizations across Canada, including the Newmarket homeless shelter. This will be the sixth year of the program, which provides free tax filing for people in need. This year it began on March 14 and goes until March 26. 

Mark Schwartz, district manager with H&R Block, has been working with the shelter for the past three years. He said there are three main barriers for low- income people when it comes to taxes: not knowing where or who to go to for help, not having an address, and not having government ID or a bank account. 

“Through this program we’ve been able to tackle all three with the help, of course, in my case of Inn From The Cold,” he said. 

“A lot of people don’t do their taxes because they don’t have a permanent address or ID, so those are two things that we can help with here," Inn From The Cold executive director Ann Watson said. "We can provide (the shelter) as their address and we do help people get ID and we do help people get bank accounts.”

Prior to the pandemic, Schwartz was able to meet with clients at Inn From The Cold face to face, but now they do it through pick- up and drop off, with tax envelopes provided to the clients at both the shelter and their drop-off program at Ray Twinney Recreation Complex. 

Ashley Martin, program manager at Inn From The Cold, said the first year of the program they had to work a bit harder to get the message out about the free service, but since then, they have spread the word and now will get clients phoning as early as January to see when the tax clinic will be coming back. 

They also have a number of people who haven’t filed their taxes in years and that’s something Schwartz and his team are able to address. 

“We had some clients last year, we were able to go back 10 years for them,” he said. 

While it varies depending on the situation, he said more often than not the filing results in residents getting a tax refund for thousands of dollars in some cases. 

On top of getting people some money in their pockets, the program has long-lasting benefits, too. 

“A lot of landlords, they want to see what your tax return was. They actually ask things like that. Then our clients are also eligible for Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program because if you haven’t filed your taxes, you aren’t eligible for those benefits,” Watson said. “A lot of them don’t even know what financial support is out there for them because they’ve just flown under the radar for so long.”

Over the years, Schwartz said they have seen the emotional impact this has on people. 

“It’s always tears of happiness and we’re so lucky to have one of those jobs where we can experience that,” he said. 

The program is aimed at people living at or below the poverty line, but Martin said there are no strict requirements for people to take part in the program. 

“We generally will serve whoever comes through our door, especially for programs like this because we know that the cost can be extreme. It can be expensive to get your taxes completed. It’s not up to us at Inn From The Cold to ask people where they’re coming from. It’s just for us to deliver on this amazing program from H&R Block,” she said. 

Along with running the tax clinic, Schwartz said they also donate $5,000 to the partner organizations like Inn From The Cold. He said he hopes the program will continue to expand into the future.


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Elizabeth Keith

About the Author: Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth Keith is a general assignment reporter. She graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2017. Elizabeth is passionate about telling local stories and creating community.
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