Tallahassee Journal

IRS service at ‘unacceptably low levels’

IRS service at ‘unacceptably low levels’

IRS service at ‘unacceptably low levels’IRS service for taxpayers has reached “unacceptably low levels” and is getting worse, a new report said Wednesday. A widening imbalance between the tax agency’s expanded workload and diminished resources means taxpayers in 2015 could face the worst service levels in more than a decade, according to the annual report to Congress by the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate. Citing the IRS’ service projections for the year, the report warns that taxpayers will likely find it more difficult to get help with basic issues: IRS

  • The IRS is unlikely to answer half of the telephone calls it receives from taxpayers.
  • Callers who manage to get through are expected to face hold times that exceed 30 minutes on average and “run considerably longer” during peak hours.
  • The agency won’t answer any questions except “basic” inquiries during the annual January-to-April tax-filing season. Later in the year, the IRS won’t answer any tax-law questions at all.
  • More than half of the correspondence received by the agency won’t receive timely handling

“When the IRS does not answer the calls its taxpayers are making to it, and when it does not timely read and respond to the letters its taxpayers are sending it, the tax system goes into a downward spiral,” wrote National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, whose office was created to help taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS.

“Taxpayers do not get answers to their questions, so they must either pay for advice they would otherwise obtain for free, or they proceed without any advice at all, leading to future compliance problems” and more burden for the taxpayer and more work for the IRS, added Olson. The report said the projected service gap is the top problem faced by U.S. taxpayers. The new warning followed a year in which the IRS received sharp criticism over allegations it improperly targeted conservative tax-exempt groups for increased scrutiny.

Olson’s report blamed the problem in part on a roughly 17% decline in the IRS’ inflation-adjusted budgets between federal fiscal years 2010 and 2015. Simultaneously, the agency’s mission has expanded to new areas, including tax issues related to the Affordable Care Act. The report recommended that Congress approve adequate budget funding for the IRS to oversee an extremely complex tax system and provide the assistance needed by taxpayers.

Noting that the proper IRS representative can be difficult to contact by phone even in ideal circumstances, the report urged that the agency’s telephone directory be made public. Additionally, the IRS should establish a phone system that would enable an operator to transfer calls from a taxpayer to the specific office that handles that person’s issue or case.

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