CERB Repayment: Lost in Translation

Did you receive a CERB repayment notice? Are you feeling lost in translation? You’re not the only one. 

The Canadian Crafts Federation joined 20 representatives from various artists’ unions on December 17th, 2020, to meet with the Federal Government to discuss the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) repayment letters. While there were some program clarifications, the core issue has still not been resolved: the language for eligibility. Many artists measured their CERB eligibility by gross income (before deductions). Now, those who do not meet the net income requirement are being asked to return their CERB payments.

Support Affected Artists By

  1. Signing of the House of Commons Petition (by January 23rd, 2021)
    • Sign and share this House of Commons petition calling on the Government of Canada to retroactively allow self-employed Canadians to use their gross pre-tax income before business expenses when determining their CERB eligibility.
  2. Participating in CARFAC’s letter-writing campaign to MPs across Canada
      • CARFAC has provided a form letter (available here). Alternately, you can write your own letter to tell your Minister of Parliament what this issue means to you. Find the name and email address of your MP here.

Your participation supports our advocacy efforts. The introduction of CERB provided a sense of relief to many craft artists who applied to the program out of necessity after the COVID-19 pandemic suspended regular income streams. The confusion of eligibility based on gross versus net income stemmed from the lack of or inconsistent information provided by the Government of Canada’s website, as well as CRA agents by telephone. CCF/FCMA agrees that applicants who applied with good faith should not be required to repay CERB. 

CARFAC writes:

This change in policy poses a serious threat to many Canadians. While we appreciate that the Federal Government will not impose penalties on those ultimately deemed ineligible, demanding that some of Canada’s most vulnerable low-income workers return emergency relief funds is unconscionable, especially when the arts sector is amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic.


During the December 17th meeting, the CCF/FCMA and our colleagues, who collectively represent over 75,000 artists and cultural workers, directly requested clarity and a change of policy regarding CERB eligibility from MP Julie Dabrusin (Toronto-Danforth), Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and policy advisors from the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Department of National Revenue. The following clarifications were confirmed as a result:

CERB program clarifications

  • Canadians should know that the CRA letter is not a determination of eligibility, rather it was an early warning sign that the government did not yet have enough information to confirm their eligibility for CERB.
  • The government always said that recipients’ eligibility would be verified after the program’s conclusion. CRA is at the beginning of this process, which will unfold over the coming months. 
  • Recipients who received the CRA letter may be eligible for the CERB, and in fact, 2020 tax return information will help determine eligibility in many cases, but the CRA has not yet received that information. 
  • The CRA issued the letters to allow recipients an opportunity to return amounts in case they find themselves ineligible for one or more CERB periods for which they received the benefit. 
  • The timing of the letter and the December 31, 2020, target for returning funds were chosen to prevent impacts on 2020 tax returns and on other benefits such as the CCB or GST/HST tax credit. It is not a repayment deadline.
  • There will be no interest or penalties assessed as a result of a CERB recipient not repaying ineligible amounts by December 31, 2020.


If you received a CERB Eligibility Letter and you believe you applied in good faith based on the information provided to you at the time of your application, we are working together and advocating on your behalf. You can support our efforts by writing to your MP and signing the House of Commons petition