The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service that acts as taxpayers’ “voice at the IRS.”
Taxpayers with unresolved issues can reach out to this office for assistance in resolving tax problems. Over the decades since I’ve been involved in this type of work I have twice called upon this office to assist me with unresolved issues. They have responded quickly and satisfactorily. They are to be commended for the fine work they do on behalf of taxpayers.
But problem resolution is not their only mission. They also make recommendations to the IRS for dealing with significant concerns.
On June 26, Nina E. Olsen of the Taxpayer Advocate presented her midyear report to Congress. The following topics have been selected to be of primary focus this coming year:
- Relieving the financial harm suffered by victims of tax return preparer fraud;
- Conducting adequate oversight of the tax return preparer industry;
- Providing effective, timely and taxpayer-centric relief to victims of identity theft;
- Utilizing effective and timely collection alternatives to minimize taxpayer burden while reducing the number and dollar amount of balance-due accounts;
- Conducting education and outreach to taxpayers about their responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare lands on all four feet effective January 1. Now is the time to check with your health care plan manager or insurance broker to find out if you will be in compliance and at what price;
- Resolving erroneous revocations of the tax-exempt status of small § 501(c)(3) organizations and failing to provide them with a pre-revocation administrative appeal;
- Establishing less draconian and more reasonable “settlement initiatives” for the millions of taxpayers who have legitimate reasons for overseas bank and financial accounts and whose failure to file reports was merely negligent.
According to the IRS, Olson also released a report examining the IRS’s use of questionable criteria to screen applicants for tax-exempt status. “The special report analyzes the sources of the problem and makes preliminary recommendations to address them.”
But it isn’t the headline news that concerns the TAS as much as the budget cuts. Olson articulates “Particular concern about the impact of cuts to the IRS budget on taxpayer services, taxpayer rights and revenue collection.” Employee training programs have been cut 83% since 2010. The tax code is difficult enough for laymen to understand but if IRS employees are not trained and provided with continuing education on tax law changes – of which there is one every 20 minutes - then how are they supposed effectively help a taxpayer? “The last thing a financially struggling taxpayer should have to face is an under-trained IRS collection apparatus,” she wrote.
And she’s right about that. Another thing I have noticed is that the hold times on calls to the Collections Division and the Practitioner Hotline have increased. Five years ago I could make a call and a human would answer on the second ring. If I had more than one case to discuss, the rep would stay with me and help me with all the cases. Now we are on hold for up to an hour and a half – which is fine if you’re a multi-tasker with a speaker phone – and only one case is handled at a time. I have to hang up and call back and hold again forever and ever.
Hopefully, Congress will listen and consider these valid points.
If you have unresolved tax issues, you may contact the taxpayer advocate about your case by calling (877) 777-4778. For more information go to Taxpayer Advocate.
Bonnie Lee is an Enrolled Agent admitted to practice and representing taxpayers in all fifty states at all levels within the Internal Revenue Service. She is the owner of Taxpertise in Sonoma, CA and the author of Entrepreneur Press book, “Taxpertise, The Complete Book of Dirty Little Secrets and Hidden Deductions for Small Business that the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know.” Follow Bonnie Lee on Twitter at BLTaxpertise and at Facebook.