CERB, also called the “Canadian Emergency Response Benefit”, was a payment of $2,000 made every 4 weeks (for up to 28 weeks) to eligible working Canadians financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Does CERB have to be Paid Back?
If you didn’t meet the eligibility requirements for CERB, you may need to repay some or all of it back to CRA or Service Canada.
To have been properly eligible for CERB, you:
- Had to have been at least 15 years old, and
- Must have made at least $5,000 in employment income in 2019 or in the 12 months leading up to your application date, and
- Must have stopped working due to reasons relating to COVID-19 (or been eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits, or have spent all your EI regular benefits or EI fishing benefits between Dec. 29, 2019 and Oct. 3, 2020)
- Must have left work involuntarily
If you made over $1,000 in employed or self-employed income in any 4-week period you received a CERB payment for, you would now have to pay that amount back.
Examples of scenarios where you would become ineligible for CERB would be:
- Going back to work earlier than expected
- Receiving retroactive pay from your employer
- Applied for CERB but later realized you weren’t eligible
If you received CERB but were no longer eligible for the program (or if you were never supposed to get it in the first place), you must pay it back for the periods when you were not eligible.
The same applies if you were paid CERB twice for the same payment period (once by CRA, and once by Service Canada).
In such a case, you would have received $4,000 instead of $2,000 for a 4-week period.
CERB Repayment Options
You can either repay CERB all at once, or call CRA to arrange a payment schedule to break down the payments over time, to avoid putting financial pressure on yourself and your household.
When it comes to making a payment, you have plenty of options.
You can pay online, by mail, or in person.
How to Dispute CERB repayment
To dispute a CERB repayment, you can contact the CRA by phone or through their website and explain why you believe the repayment request is incorrect.
Make sure you have your CRA account information and any relevant documentation (e.g. proof of eligibility for CERB) on hand when you contact them.
The CRA may ask for additional information or documentation to support your dispute.
Who is Eligible to Keep CERB?
The general criteria for eligibility for CERB were:
- You stopped working because of COVID-19, or
- You were eligible for EI regular or sickness benefits, or
- You spent all your EI regular benefits or EI fishing benefits between Dec. 29, 2019 and Oct. 3, 2020
Additionally, you had to:
- Reside in Canada
- Be at least 15 years old
- Have had an income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of application
- Not have made over $1,000 in employment or self-employment income for the entire 4-week period which you received CERB.
If you fit the eligibility criteria for all of the months in which you received CERB, you shouldn’t have to pay anything back.
You are also eligible to keep CERB payments if you were self-employed and:
- You received CERB based on your self-employment income for the period between March 15, 2020 and September 26, 2020
- Your gross self-employment income was at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to the date of application
- You met the other eligibility requirements (see above)
- You filed your 2019 and 2020 tax returns
How to Request CERB Reimbursement (if you’ve already paid it back)
If you were eligible for CERB and already paid it back, you can request a reimbursement.
If you’re self-employed, you can use the CERB reimbursement application form and submit it online, by mail or through fax.
If you’re not self-employed, you’ll need to contact CRA directly to request reimbursement.
Keep in mind that you cannot apply for retroactive CERB payments.
How is CERB Taxed?
CERB is considered taxable income.
When filing your taxes for the years in which you received CERB, those payments would count towards your total personal income earned that year and would be taxed as such.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Will CERB Payments be Forgiven?
It is unlikely that CERB payments will be forgiven. The federal government did acknowledge that the eligibility requirements for CERB were not completely clear, so it is allowing people to create a flexible repayment plan with the help of a CRA agent.
- Can you Repay CERB in Installments?
Yes, you can repay CERB in installments. Contact a CRA representative to arrange a repayment schedule that works for you.
- What if I Can’t Repay CERB?
Before you go repaying CERB, make sure the government didn’t incorrectly consider you ineligible for CERB, when they’re really just missing documents proving that you were eligible.
If you think you were eligible for the benefit but were sent a CERB repayment letter, make sure to contact the CRA first to see if you just need to hand over proof of eligibility.
If you do have to repay CERB but you cannot afford to, even with the help of a zero-interest payment plan, you may need to get in touch with a Licensed Insolvency Trustee.
- How Do I Find Out if I Need to Repay CERB?
Many Canadians would have received letters in the mail that they needed to repay CERB.
To find out if you need to repay CERB, even if you didn’t receive a letter, you can check the eligibility criteria on the Government of Canada’s website. Additionally, you can check the status of your CERB payments and any outstanding amounts that may need to be repaid through the CRA’s My Account portal. You can also contact the CRA directly for information on your specific case.