Taxpayer Advocate: IRS Service Improved in Some Areas, Worsened in Others

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jun 29, 2017
IRS

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson, in her mid-year report to Congress, said that taxpayer service slightly improved in accounts management, but got remarkably worse in compliance. During this filing season, the IRS answered 79 percent of the phone calls it received on its Account Manager lines, up from 72 percent last year. Further, taxpayers spent less time on hold, with total wait times declining from 11.1 minutes last year to 6.5 minutes this year.

However, people calling to actually pay taxes due were even more frustrated than last year: the IRS answered only 40 percent of these calls, down from 76 percent last year. Wait times, meanwhile, increased from 11 minutes last year to 47 minutes on average this year. 

The Taxpayer Advocate also pointed out that while the IRS did answer a higher percentage of calls on the Account Manager lines, the total number of calls answered actually shrank by 25 percent versus last year, as the number of taxpayers routed to Account Manager lines declined 32 percent over a year. The Taxpayer Advocate said that had they received the same number of calls they got last year, they would have answered only 54 percent of them. 

"Therefore, while the uptick in the percentage of AM calls answered was welcome news this year, the report cautions that the IRS has not necessarily turned the corner in strengthening its telephone service. The report also notes that the FY 2018 budget proposal for the IRS projects the agency will answer only 39 percent of taxpayer calls routed to telephone assistors next year," said a statement from the National Taxpayer Advocate. 

Olson, in her report to Congress, also expressed concern about the use of private debt collectors, who might pressure taxpayers who cannot afford to pay into doing so, as they are not allowed to perform financial analysis to determine their ability to pay, and further they are incentivized to collect as much as possible as they are paid based on how much they bring in. She also said that the IRS went back on an agreement to let her office listen to a sample of private debt collector calls to ensure they're complying with taxpayer rights to the extent required by law. 

Other major issues included the monitoring of the passport revocation and denial program, which the report said could cause major harm if a mistake is made, and transparency in offshore voluntary disclosure programs, as she said the IRS is not releasing the aggregate data that would give people a better feel for how the program operates.

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