UPDATED: Bureaucracy 101: Today, Class, We’ll File an RC59 Form!

Staff Post
By Heather Young

See update below on a new CRA form which allows changes to a charity’s director, trustee, or like official information .

Somehow, successfully completing an RC59 Business Consent form – which authorizes access to CRA accounts for HST, payroll and more – has often felt like a hit or miss process. Sometimes there’s no issue, and in other cases it has taken repeated attempts to get account contacts updated.

I had an illuminating conversation with a CRA officer that has helped to resolve some important misunderstandings, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned.

The RC59 form identifies two levels of authorization. Level 1 allows information-only access: that’s what your bookkeeper should have. Level 2 individuals are authorized to make changes to the account and the information it contains: that responsibility should belong to your organization’s senior staff. CRA lists the actions that can be performed by each level here.

One of the potential disconnects to understanding the process is that there’s actually a Level 3 which is not directly referenced on the RC59 form, although you’ll find its powers itemized on the preceding hyperlink. A Level 3 individual is also referred to as a Delegated Authority – a term that appears in the RC59 instructions section under the heading “Part 5 – Certification.” Only individuals authorized at Level 3 are allowed to sign (certify) RC59 forms. 

Note that, by virtue of their position, members of your board of directors automatically have Level 3 access to your CRA accounts. Your Executive Director or General Manager does not: they must be appointed by a Director. 

The RC59 instructions state, “This form must only be signed by an individual with proper authority for the business, for example, an owner, a partner of a partnership, a corporate director, a corporate officer, an officer of a non-profit organization, a trustee of an estate, or an individual with delegated authority.” 

The potential misinterpretation is to fail to recognize “delegated authority” as a legal term with a prescribed meaning. In the not-for-profit world, boards of directors commonly delegate a broad span of authority to their senior staff, who, for that matter, may have the term “officer” in their job title, as in Chief Executive Officer or Chief Financial Officer. The fact that you are responsible for CRA reporting, or that you sign T3010s or any other tax-related documents carries no weight, and the only officers CRA recognizes are the officers of your board of directors, such as the President, Treasurer or Secretary.

Individuals can be appointed to Level 3, Delegated Authority, upon proper completion of an RC321 form, Delegation of Authority. Since staff typically handle the nitty gritty of CRA interactions, it may be convenient for organizations to appoint their ED as a Delegated Authority, so that they have the ability to manage other account representatives. 

The whole system rests on CRA having access to a current list of directors and officers of the corporation. We’ve often been in the position of filing an RC59 after a long-serving staff member departs – and learning, after much bother, that the only other contacts on record with CRA are ancient history. 

And, here is another disconnect. Registered charities are accustomed to sending CRA a detailed board list annually as part of their T3010 Charities Return. All corporations (commercial and not-for-profit) must also file annual information returns to the appropriate jurisdiction (provincial or federal), naming their directors so that they can be added to the public record. However, CRA’s Business Number (BN) Services Unit does not employ these sources of information. 

You need to make a special request to CRA to update your board list for the purpose of BN administration. There is no official form for this task. According to the CRA officer I spoke to, you must write a letter requesting the update, listing your board members, and providing proof of their appointment; for instance, a copy of the AGM minutes including the motion electing the board. A search of the CRA website for confirmation of these verbal instructions yielded this link, which affirms the general intent, but does not specify the process. If you need to update your board list with CRA, perhaps a phone call to the Business Window (1-800-959-5525) would be the best place to start.

Note that CRA can ask board members to provide their Social Insurance Number. The Charities Directorate does not collect this information, but the CRA at large requires it because board members bear a personal liability for amounts held in trust for the Receiver General, such as unpaid payroll source deductions and HST remittances. 

With your board list up to date, you will always be able to update the RC59 as needed. Putting this on your AGM “to do” list sounds like a good addition to administrative best practices.

So, class, what are today’s main take-aways?

Well, I hope that this information helps to put RC59 woes behind us – but, really, the most important lesson to be learned is the significance of board members to what we usually classify as an administrative process. I suspect most ED’s would prefer that their board members stay out of the minutiae of CRA dealings – but in fact the law assigns Directors an essential role.

By virtue of their position, they have full access to the corporation’s dealings with CRA, and they are the gatekeepers to staff, who are typically charged with direct responsibility for tax filings, remittances and related matters.

And let’s not forget the financial liability issue. When someone joins your board, they assume personal responsibility – legally, up to the point of being held accountable for payment! – for ensuring that taxes are collected, reported and remitted according to the law.

The issues around processing RC59s serve as a good reminder of board members’ fiduciary responsibilities, the details of which may become lost or blurred in the day to day reality of their role as informed, engaged and active volunteers, supporting the paid professionals who carry out administrative operations.


Some feedback from one of our clients: 

Both Young Associates and [redacted] now have Level 1 authorization to quote "interact with the Canada Revenue Agency." 
I should give a big thank you for all parties involved, with a special shout-out to Heather for giving us very detailed instructions, and for her written column on the RC59, and for [redacted]'s assistance is helping us submit the forms 7x, or so.
I know more now than I ever wanted to do about this process.

update 2: 

As of December 2016, the CRA has created a form to change or update a charity’s director, trustee, or like official information. The form can be submitted by email, fax, or snail mail. Visit the CRA website for more information. 

Note from the CRA: 
This form does not replace the requirement to complete Form T1235, Directors/Trustees and Like Officials Worksheet, when you file your Form T3010, Registered Charity Information Return. Form T1235 is used to update the director, trustee, and like official information in the Charities Listings.