The IRS Has Your Wallet, But the Taxpayer Advocate Service Has Your Back
The Role of the Taxpayer Advocate Service
Stan Rose, Managing Director, Tax Practice
Most taxpayers deal with the IRS only occasionally, generally by filing an annual income tax return. Others have been on the receiving end of an inquiry, or have had to chase down a missing refund. Others have even undergone an audit of one or more of their tax returns. In most of those cases that I have been involved with on behalf of my clients, the IRS agents have been fair, pleasant to deal with and helpful in resolving the matter at hand. Sometimes, though, the issues are pretty tricky, the agent is deep into unfamiliar territory, or the layers of bureaucracy, turnover or even a difficult-to-correct computer error prevent a taxpayer from resolving the problem, even after numerous attempts. In those cases, the taxpayer is not without recourse, because there is a division of the IRS whose role is to solve such problems and cut through the red tape: The Taxpayer Advocate Service (“TAS”).
Perhaps a good way to view the TAS (at least for fans of law enforcement books and TV shows) is as a sort of internal affairs division within the IRS. Part of its role is to ensure that IRS procedures and people are treating taxpayers fairly. However, unlike its cop-show counterparts, TAS deals directly with the public, working with and for them. The TAS has the authority, given by Congress, to make determinations on behalf of other portions of the IRS. The TAS is a division of the IRS, but it answers directly to the IRS Commissioner’s office, often circumventing other layers of authority within the IRS such as local agents, area managers and even the Appeals division. (Anyone worried about the TAS being a little too biased in favor of the IRS over taxpayers need only to review the TAS annual reports to Congress. They contain more than their share of stinging rebukes of IRS rules and protocol, and recommendations for improvements that would benefit taxpayers.)
So, can taxpayers save time by simply working initially and solely with the TAS? The short answer is no, that is not how it works. The TAS has its roots in a division of the IRS formed as the Problems Resolution Program almost 40 years ago, and although that program has morphed since then, the TAS role remains one of solving problems resulting from taxpayers’ interactions with other divisions of the IRS. They are troubleshooters to be used when the “normal” process has failed. But once the wheels fall off, taxpayers can contact TAS personnel, and TAS likely will become involved. You can do that in one of two ways. First, simply call them. They have offices all over the country, and you can find the closest one here. Alternatively, you can call for help by completing and then mailing or faxing the aptly-named IRS Form 911, found here. The TAS will decide whether or not your case meets the criteria for its involvement, and if it does, it will take charge of the case and usually put a “hold” on other IRS divisions’ pursuits of actions against you. Once it takes the case, you will deal with one person (your Taxpayer Advocate), who will manage the case on your behalf. You will find the Advocate to be proactive, easy to reach by phone, well-informed and effective. In short, if TAS takes your case, you can expect the best possible outcome to which you are legally entitled.
So what cases will the TAS assume? It has a lot of discretion in what it takes on, but it generally will involve cases in which the taxpayer has experienced a long delay awaiting an IRS response, a deadline is missed by the IRS, the potential exists for immediate adverse action or imminent economic harm, or an internal IRS system or procedure has failed to operate as intended. Examples are refunds not received after a long delay (generally 90 days or more), failure of the IRS to provide you with a meaningful response after you have attempted to communicate with the IRS twice on the same issue, or the IRS otherwise is not responding to your inquiries. Another example could be a threat of levy or recording of a lien, when no prior warning was received.
The TAS won’t take every case, though. Taxpayers who have not followed established administrative procedures will be asked to do so before the TAS will become involved. It also may not be of much help if you have dealt with the IRS and simply don’t like the result (i.e. too much tax, or its unwillingness to let you continue to claim an exemption for your dog, etc.). There is no harm in asking the TAS for its help if you are unclear on whether your situation qualifies. If the case is not appropriate for TAS, its personnel will steer you in the right direction.
The IRS receives plenty of unfavorable press. Some is justified, some is not. But based on my experience, you will be hard pressed to come away from a dealing with the Taxpayer Advocate Service without realizing that you’ve been given a fair shake, and that its system and people did not let you down. More information can be found at the TAS website.
If you would like to discuss further, please call your BNN tax advisor or Stan Rose at 1-800-244-7444.
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