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I got the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) but did not qualify. What can I do?

I got the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) but did not qualify. What can I do?
August 20, 2020

The government has been dealing with Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) applications very quickly. This means that they've accepted almost everyone who applies, without checking whether they qualify.

All people have to do is "attest" or promise that they're eligible. They don't have to show proof like a Record of Employment (ROE) or any other documents.

The government says that they'll be reviewing new and past applications more closely.

If they decide that you did not qualify for the CERB, you may have to pay the money back.

It's not clear how the government is going to find people who should not have received the CERB. But they'll likely do this next year when people do their income tax returns.

If you got the CERB improperly

Many people will have applied improperly. If you think that you may have done this, you have a few options.  

If you can afford it, you can pay the money back. You can do this in several ways, for example, by mail, online banking, or through your financial institution.

If you can't afford to repay the money, you need to get legal help. Make notes of why you thought you qualified when you applied. This is important because there are new rules that let the government forgive the debt in some situations. Forgiving your debt means that you don't have to pay it back.

But if you applied and knew that you did not qualify, it will be difficult to have your debt forgiven.  

How you applied for the CERB

You can apply for the CERB through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or Service Canada.

If you applied through Service Canada

If you applied through Service Canada, there are new rules that let the government forgive your debt. These rules give them the option to forgive your debt. But they don't have to. This means that they could still say no.

The law lists the reasons why the government can forgive your debt, including:

  • you've gone bankrupt,
  • you owe less than $100,
  • the government made the mistake, or
  • it would cause you “undue hardship” if the government collected the money.

If you think that one of the reasons might apply to you, you need to get legal help.

If you applied through the CRA

The government has not yet said how or when the CRA will consider forgiving CERB debts. But they'll likely do it using similar reasons to the ones that apply to people who apply through Service Canada.

We'll update this information once the government says what the CRA rules will be.

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