Need tax assistance from the IRS? Prepare to be on hold for 30 min.

17 Jan

From National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson’s 2014 annual report to Congress:

Nearly 200 million Americans interact with the IRS each year, more than three times as many as any other federal agency.  (Individuals file nearly 150 million returns, including about 50 million joint returns.)  Because of the complexity of the tax code, large numbers of taxpayers turn to the IRS for assistance.  The IRS typically receives more than 100 million telephone calls, 10 million letters, and 5 million visits at its walk-in sites from taxpayers each year.

IRS taxpayer service reached its high-water mark in fiscal year (FY) 2004.  In that period, the IRS answered 87% of calls from taxpayers seeking to speak with an assistor, and hold times averaged 2.5 minutes.  The IRS also responded to a wide range of tax-law questions, both on its toll-free lines and in its roughly 400 walk-in sites, prepared nearly 500,000 tax returns for taxpayers who requested help (particularly low income, elderly, and disabled taxpayers), and maintained a robust outreach and education program that touched an estimated 72 million taxpayers.

By comparison, the IRS’s diminished service expectations for FY 2015 are as follows:

  • The IRS is unlikely to answer even half the telephone calls it receives, and levels of service may average as low as 43%.
  • Taxpayers who manage to get through are expected to wait on hold for 30 minutes on average and considerably longer at peak times.
  • The IRS will answer far fewer tax-law questions than in past years.  During the upcoming filing season, it will not answer any tax-law questions except “basic” ones.  After the filing season, it will not answer any tax-law questions at all, leaving the roughly 15 million taxpayers who file later in the year unable to get answers to their questions by calling or visiting IRS offices.
  • Tax return preparation assistance has been eliminated.

On the workload side, the IRS is receiving 11% more returns from individuals, 18% more returns from business entities, and 70% more telephone calls (through FY 2013) than a decade ago.  During the upcoming filing season, implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act are both expected to add considerable new work.

On the resources side, the IRS’s budget has been reduced by about 17% in inflation-adjusted terms just since FY 2010.  As a consequence, the IRS has already reduced its workforce by nearly 12,000 employees and projects further reductions will be needed during FY 2015.  In addition, the IRS has reduced the amount it spends on employee training since FY 2010 by 83%.  These cutbacks leave the IRS with a shrinking workforce whose employees are less equipped to do their jobs.


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