CityWest sent out notices to all its customers with residential phone service informing them that they have been accidentally overcharging them on PST since 2013. Residents must apply to the Ministry of Finance for reimbursement. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

CityWest mistakenly overcharging customers on PST since 2013

Prince Rupert’s telecommunications company sent out notices to residents informing them of the error

CityWest customers have been incrementally losing more than a hundred dollars over the course of six years.

The Ministry of Finance received some extra revenue after CityWest found they had been overcharging their customers on the provincial sales tax (PST) since 2013.

Current residential customers who have phone features with Prince Rupert’s telecommunications company have been sent notices in the mail informing them of the error.

“The Provincial Sales Tax Act allows for an exemption of PST on residential phone services, if certain criteria are met. The exemption applies to phone services and additional phone service features, such as voicemail, call waiting, etc. For the last few years, we were incorrectly charging PST on those services,” the notice reads.

CityWest said they cannot refund customers themselves because according to the Provincial Sales Tax Act any amounts paid in error that exceed 180 days can only be refunded by the Ministry of Finance.

Bill Nicholls, director of finance for CityWest, said that the initial intent was to reimburse customers themselves, however, after discussions with the government it was not feasible.

READ MORE: Beware of CityWest email impostors

In addition, the ministry can only reimburse for errors made within four years, meaning residents will not see their money lost from 2013-2015.

One resident is owed almost $115, not including the extra charges paid before Sept. 2015. Chris Armstrong, director of marketing and spokesperson for CityWest, said the average amount lost was $61 per customer.

In an email exchange, the Ministry of Finance stated that they were unable to comment on specific tax cases. However, they said it is the responsibility of individual companies – not the Ministry of Finance – to apply the tax to consumers correctly. The ministry also noted that they regularly conduct tax compliancy audits.

Those wishing to be reimbursed can print out the Application for Refund form on the Ministry of Finance’s website, fill it out and send it by mail. The notice sent out by CityWest contains a schedule on the back stating the exact billing date and amount residents are owed, to make the application simpler.

The error began in April 2013 when the harmonized sales tax (HST) was repealed and the GST and PST was reinstated. CityWest said in their notice that they only became aware of the error in Jan. 2019.

Armstrong said the company is working to correct the issue right away. How the error went unnoticed for so long is still under investigation by the company.

READ MORE: Province asked to review port tax cap

READ MORE: Extend sales tax to soft drinks, B.C. advisory group says


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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