Reduced IRS Services Levels and IRS Customer Service

The Advocate expresses particular concern about IRS intentions regarding what is not stated in the plan.  “Implicit in the plan – and explicit in internal discussion – is an intention on the part of the IRS to substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face interaction with taxpayers,” the report says.  “The key unanswered question is by how much. . .It is incumbent upon the IRS to be much more specific about how much personal taxpayer assistance it expects to provide in its ‘future state.’”

 

IRS Online Accounts

The report says the IRS appears to presume taxpayer interactions with the IRS through online accounts will address a high percentage of taxpayer needs, enabling it to curtail existing taxpayer services without significantly impacting taxpayers.  The Future State plan also calls for expanding the role of tax return preparers and tax software companies in providing taxpayer assistance – an approach that likely would increase compliance costs for millions of taxpayers who now obtain that assistance from the IRS for free.

The IRS Future State plan could transform the role the agency has long played in helping taxpayers comply with their tax obligations, the report says.  The IRS historically has maintained a robust customer service telephone operation that, in every year since FY 2008, has received more than 100 million taxpayer telephone calls, as well as a network of nearly 400 walk-in sites that, in every year for over a decade, has provided face-to-face assistance to more than five million taxpayers.

 

Online IRS Registration

Online accounts are likely to reduce taxpayer demand for telephone and face-to-face interaction to some degree but are unlikely to be useful in addressing complex account-specific matters, the report says. “This is true for several reasons, including that millions of taxpayers do not have Internet access, millions of taxpayers with Internet access do not feel comfortable trying to resolve important financial matters over the Internet, and many taxpayer problems are not ‘cookie cutter,’ thus requiring a degree of back-and-forth discussion that is better suited for conversation.”  Last year, more than 9 million taxpayers either received post-filing IRS notices proposing to adjust their tax or experienced refund delays, all matters that are account-specific.

 

Where is my IRS Tax Refund?

Technology improvements often do not reduce demand for personal service to the extent expected, the report says. For example, the IRS over the past decade has increased the individual tax return e-filing rate from 54 percent to 85 percent, enhanced the Where’s My Refund? tool, and added substantial content to IRS.gov, yet the number of taxpayer calls to its customer service lines hasincreased by 59 percent.  Similarly, the report cites a recent Federal Reserve survey in which 72 percent of mobile banking customers reported they had visited a branch and spoken with a teller an average of two times within the preceding month. The report says customers often use online service as a supplement to, rather than a substitute for, personal service, particularly for complex matters.

 

IRS Reducing Taxpayer Services

In recent years, the IRS has already begun to reduce taxpayer services, including by declaring all but simple tax-law questions “out of scope” for the IRS to answer during the filing season; declaring it will not answer any tax-law questions after the filing season (including questions from millions of taxpayers with proper extensions of time to file); eliminating preparation of tax returns in its walk-in sites; and eliminating an online program that allowed taxpayers to submit questions electronically.