HST inconsistencies annoy readers

September 20 2010 by Ellen Roseman

It’s still early days for Ontario’s harmonized sales tax, which came into effect on July 1. But many people feel it’s being applied inconsistently or unfairly.

Sharon reads electronic books. She was dismayed to find she was charged 13 per cent HST on ebooks purchased from Kobo, an online store owned by Indigo Books, while she’d pay only the 5 per cent GST on books sold at a regular bookstore.

Slobodan bought a litre of milk at a convenience store in Niagara Falls and was charged 45 cents HST on the $3.39 purchase. Since when is food taxed in this province, he asks? And besides, the calculation is off by 1 cent (13 per cent of $3.39 is 44 cents).

George complains of problems using discount coupons at restaurants. He says restaurants should charge tax only on the net amount after deducting any discounts, but many calculate tax on the gross amount before the discount. The result is inflated taxes being paid unnecessarily. In fact, the rules aren’t quite as clear-cut, if you read the CRA’s guide.

Frank asks why some restaurants still charge 15 per cent tax on liquor. Didn’t the Ontario government remove the liquor tax and substitute the 13 per cent HST? Yes, it did, while promising to recover the taxes lost through higher markups at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores.

Jim and Anita can’t understand why their hydro bills — already high enough with the added HST for actual use — also have HST added to the delivery, regulatory charges and debt retirement charge. “For senior citizens on fixed incomes, these added costs are too much. How do low income families manage this hardship?”

Ontarians may grumble, but in British Columbia, they’re rallying to fight HST. I’d like to hear other examples of HST applied unfairly or inconsistently.


  1. James

    Sep 21 2010

    If someone tried to charge me tax on milk, I would walk out of the store and report their shenanigans to the government (after arguing, naturally).
    As for the B.C. story of the citizens there fighting it, you won’t see that here in Ontario. I’ve noticed that people here are usually pretty good at stifling legitimate debate by either shrugging their shoulders and saying, “what can you do?” or by calling you a whiner and complainer for bringing it up. Heaven forbid we should complain about something. It seems like complaining is a cardinal sin to most Ontarians, since it would shatter their illusion that things are just peachy.

  2. Siobhan

    Sep 22 2010

    I saw on my mother’s electricity that she’s being charged HST and GST. I thought GST and PST is combined for the HST. So why is she being charged twice?

  3. commoncents

    Sep 23 2010

    Check the billing period on the bill. If it covers a period before and after July 1 then GST would apply to charges incurred prior to July 1 and HST would apply to charges incurred after July 1.

  4. Jamie

    Oct 1 2010

    I’ve been having a substantial issue with Loblaws overcharging rst/gst/hst (not related to the change) for ages.

    I’ve just received a response last week to an email 6 weeks previous, 7 months after initially bringing this to their attention (customer service, giving store tax guide, mailing every exec I could find, having a tax office rep actually visit the store, and threatening to send the whole story to Ellen Roseman), supposedly from “Galen” that they’ve finally dealt with it and an exec would be in touch if I hadn’t already heard from him.

    Of course, I haven’t, “no response” even when one is promised is the Loblaws way.

    I complained about one store but knew it was widespread at all Loblaws banners everywhere that they have been overcharging tax on manufacturer coupons “of non specific dollar amounts”, such as “buy 1 get 1 free”, or just “free”. These coupons should never have had tax charged, that’s the way its always been.

    HST guide:

    Former ON Rst Guide last updated 13 years ago:

    Despite everyone at Loblaws, including their senior tax analyst and a senior VP, agreeing I was correct, months later management at the specific store I complained about claimed “they never heard anything about it” as they continued to overcharge consumers, refusing to follow the tax guides I had been taking with me to the store.

    The outrage about stores getting the eco fee wrong for a few days seems trivial when you realize the largest grocer in Canada has been overcharging sales tax for decades, contrary to very clear rules, and repeatedly didn’t deal with the issue even as they agreed they should.

    I believe the other major stores all intend to tax those type of coupons correctly (most have specific buttons or codes on the register for that purpose), but mistakes are common at either entire single locations or uninformed individual staff.

  5. Nancy

    Oct 3 2010

    It’s extremely unfair that my health care is taxed. I believe it is wrong to tax alternative (preventative) health care.

    My naturopathic doctor’s services are taxed! …acupuncture, massage therapy, etc. – all taxed HST! WRONG!

    Also, vitamins and all other supplements are taxed HST. It’s morally wrong.

    Isn’t our government supposed to be helping us, not hindering our lives? They’ve got it WRONG.

  6. Jamie

    Oct 10 2010

    Just unbelievable what is happening at Loblaws. After months and months of complaints and responses from them agreeing I am right and their stores are wrong, today I am once again overcharged hst using a “free” item coupon. Even though I brought the gst guide with me, as well as printouts of emails from their VP Director of corporate affairs and senior tax analyst, no fewer then *6* staff involved want to continue arguing they have to collect hst.

    Despite many assurances from Loblaws the issue had been dealt with, management claimed “we’ve never heard anything about it”

    After a ridiculous length of time they relented, though I don’t think they believed doing so was correct. I guess Galen lied to me when he emailed to say ” You’re absolutely right that this was an error on our part and fixing it was quite difficult but the problem is now resolved.”

  7. Nomi

    Oct 15 2010

    I just got charged HST on frozen orange juice at Metro. I only noticed because it was the only thing I bought.

    I actually bought some yesterday at Superstore and wasn’t charged HST. So I looked it up online.

    In a CRA GST/HST Info sheet on beverages GI-036, the section on Fruit juices and fruit-flavoured beverages states:

    “Frozen fruit juice beverage concentrates are zero-rated if the percentage of natural fruit juice in the concentrate is 25% or more by volume. If the percentage of natural fruit juice in the concentrate is less than 25% by volume, the concentrate is taxable.”

    Since I bought pure orange juice, Superstore was right and Metro is wrong. I’ll see what I can do about getting a refund.

  8. Tony

    Nov 8 2010

    There can’t be the same amount of real juice and be lower (almost zero) calorie. They take the calories out by taking out the real juice with its naturally occurring sugar…and replacing it with water and artificial sweetener. Can’t have it both ways.

  9. barb

    Mar 5 2011

    I emailed Cliff Truax, (the Director of Finances for Hydro One) inquiring how and why the HST is being applied to even the (controversial) charges. I have yet to receive a response.

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