Shane Simpson

Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, announced Thursday a free tax-return program for people with disabilities is expanding to Kelowna.

A program offering free tax-return filing for people with disabilities is coming to Kelowna.

Disability Alliance BC’s Tax AID program provides free, individual help with tax returns year-round.

DABC started offering tax aid services in 2015 in Vancouver. In the past three years, the program has helped 650 people receive $1.5 million in tax credits, said Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction.

The province is providing the DABC with $1.14 million to expand the program to Kelowna, Victoria and Prince George.

In Kelowna, the program will be run at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society.

“Many of our clients with disabilities tell us they are afraid to file income taxes in case they end up owing money,” said Tina Larouche, program director with the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society. “We will be able to help a lot more people with disabilities get up to date with their filing.”

The Friendship Society will hire someone to run the program, which is 100 per cent funded by the province.

That person will not only help people with disabilities file their taxes, but will also go out into the community, partner with other organizations and find people who need help, said Larouche.

The Friendship Society hopes to have the service up and running by the last week of May.

Anyone in the Okanagan interested in the program is asked to contact the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society to set up an appointment.

“We’re really humbled to be able to provide this type of service to the community,” said Larouche.

Around 20,000 people with disabilities in B.C. fail to file their income taxes every year, said Simpson.

“If people don’t file their taxes, they miss out on a number of tax refunds and cash benefits,” he said.

To qualify for the program, people must be receiving the provincial persons with disabilities benefit, or the person with persistent multiple barriers to employment benefit.

For people with low incomes who are not on disability assistance, free help is available to file tax returns through Canada Revenue Agency’s community volunteer income tax program.