The federal government has so far recovered about a third of the roughly $3 billion in COVID-19 relief benefits paid to ineligible people, the cabinet disclosed in records submitted to the House of Commons.
In an Inquiry of Ministry, obtained by Blacklock's Reporter, the cabinet said notices have been sent to roughly 1.7 million Canadians who do not qualify for but have received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). A total of 8.9 million people received the benefit, meaning that ineligible applicants account for 19 percent of the recipients.
“The intended total recovery amount cannot be predicted with accuracy at this time," Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier said in the records.
The records were disclosed at the request of NDP MP Peter Julian, according to Blacklock's Reporter.
"As of 30 November 2020, payments were stopped for more than 30,000 potentially fraudulent applications. This represented approximately $42 million," the 2021 report says.
The new Inquiry of Ministry, however, disclosed much higher figures. Cabinet said it was trying to retrieve funds owed from more than 72,000 Employment Insurance claimants who received additional pandemic relief. So far, a total of $65.8 million has been retrieved.
Of a total $2.9 billion paid in error to 1.7 million claimants overall, less than a billion was recovered, the Inquiry of Ministry record shows.
“Of these notices of debt $960,140,944 has been repaid,” the record said. “The government intends to recover the full amount of the debt, $2.9 billion."
“Canadians will not be put into financial hardship by having to repay emergency benefits they received,” Qualtrough said.
"At the same time, the government is committed to the financial stewardship of its programs and has zero tolerance for fraud."
In a separate Inquiry of Ministry, also obtained by Blacklock's Reporter, the cabinet said it was pursuing overpayments of as little as $7 and as much as $14,000. This record was disclosed at the request of NDP MP Daniel Blaikie.
“The average amount of outstanding debt on these notices is $1,056,” the Inquiry said.
The Canada Revenue Agency said it had spent $147.6 million worth of staff time auditing CERB accounts.
“The Agency is committed to ensuring individuals receive only the benefits to which they are entitled,” the Inquiry said.