Abrahams v. R. – TCC: Clergyman was employee – entitled to clergy residence exemption but not business expenses

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Abrahams v. The Queen[1] (December 6, 2013) was an appeal by a taxpayer who was a clergyman.   As a result of the fiscal downturn of 2008 his church was in great financial difficulty.  In 2010 he began to report his income from the church as business income which appears to have been an attempt to save the church the cost of employee withholdings.  He claimed the clergyman residence deduction but this was denied by CRA since he was not an employee (based on his return as filed).  The substance of the appeal was his claim to the residence deduction:

[5]             The Appellant is an ordained pastor. In 2010, he ministered the congregation of Harvest Church International (the “Church”) in Abbotsford, British Columbia. It was his evidence that the Church had financial difficulties as a result of the recession in 2008 and he proposed to the Directors of the Church that he would be employed on contract with the Church.

[6]             When the Appellant filed his tax return for 2010, he reported that he had earned business income and he claimed a deduction for a clergy residence in the amount of $17,891 and business expenses of $10,972.16. The Appellant filed his notice of appeal with the Court claiming that whether he was employed by an “external employer or by self, the qualifying function remains unchanged”.

[7]             The appeal was set for hearing in March of 2013. At the hearing, the Appellant stated that he intended to file an amended 2010 income tax return in which he would report that the income he earned was employment income and not business income. It was suggested that he file an amended notice of appeal instead of amending his income tax return. The Appellant followed this suggestion and filed an amended notice of appeal.

[8]             In the amended notice of appeal, the Appellant stated:

(a)   His income in 2010 should have been reported as employment income;

(b)  There was a contract of employment between him and the Church in 2010 and he was employed to minister to the congregation of the Church;

(c)   He met both the function and status tests set out in paragraph 8(1)(c) of the Income Tax Act;

(d)  The Church had very little money in 2010 and his remuneration was paid without deductions. It was an error that his income was reported as having come from business rather than employment;

(e)   He asks that his income be treated as employment income;

(f)    He further asks that the Court allow the CPP deduction which he claimed at line 222 in the amount of $1,940.44;

(g)   He further asked that his expenses in the amount of $10,972.16 be reported as employment expenses rather than business expenses. He wrote that he enclosed a copy of form T2200 which was signed by the Director of the Church;

(h)  He requested that he be allowed his original claim for the clergy residence deduction in the amount of $17,891. He enclosed photocopies of cancelled cheques evidencing his income from the Church.

The court concluded that the appellant met the requirements for the deduction and held an office (rather than being self-employed) and accordingly allowed the appeal:

[11]        It is not disputed that the Appellant met the status and function conditions of paragraph 8(1)(c). The only issue in this appeal is whether the Appellant was self-employed in 2010 or whether he earned his income from an “office or employment” in 2010. The Appellant is eligible to claim the deduction in paragraph 8(1)(c) only if he was an employee of the Church in 2010.

[12]        The Appellant has presented sufficient evidence to allow me to find that he met the conditions in paragraph 8(1)(c) and he is entitled to the deduction for a clergy residence in the amount of $17,891.

[1] 2013 TCC 391.