IRS Fails Taxpayers Again in 2015

Based on the interim report published by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the IRS achieved a 38.5 percent Level of Service and a 24.6 average hold time on IRS phone lines during the 2015 filing season.  I don’t really know what Level of Service entails, but I know that 38 percent is really only good if we’re talking batting average.  You may be wondering, “How do you get such a low score?  I could probably score higher than 38 percent on a test by guessing.”  Well, this is how: you get 45.6 million phone calls and you answer only 4.2 million of them.  BAM.  Done.

Read the report.  It will make you cringe.

FTB Call-Back Service

There are many things that the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) does that I would hope the IRS never adopts.  But some might appreciate it if the IRS would follow the example of the FTB when it comes to their customer service phone lines.

Clearly the IRS could never deliver the same level of customer service as a state taxing entity, due to the insanely large number of calls that IRS gets each day.  I don’t think anybody really expects them to compete on that level.  Likewise, it is naive to think that the state should be able to answer every call as it comes in without leaving taxpayers on hold.  However, FTB has figured out a way to make it much more convenient for the caller.  The FTB phone system has a feature that allows the taxpayer to request a call-back during times of heavy call volume.  The system estimates about how long you’ll have to wait on hold if you choose to hold, and then gives you the option of leaving your name and number and having a customer service rep call you back during that same time frame.

This call-back feature is handy for tax attorneys and tax practitioners, but it is especially useful for unrepresented taxpayers.  I have used the call-back feature a few times, but I typically do not mind holding either.  I often have a handful of cases that are queued up and ready to go once they pick up, and while I wait there’s always Instagram and TIGTA reports, but mostly Instagram.  But taxpayers calling in on their own case can be really discouraged by a 30+ minute wait, and it is nice to have the option of saving your place in line without actually waiting on the line.

I understand the administrative burden this feature would cause though.  It’s not a huge amount of extra work, but even a little extra work on such a large scale can be reason enough to just maintain the status quo.  IRS customer service has really gone down the toilet in the last few years, so really status quo wouldn’t seem too awful right about now compared to any additional slippage in service.

IRS Worker Suspended for Violation of Hatch Act

You know the statistic about what percentage of your life is spent sleeping?  Does it shock you just a little bit and make you want to sleep less?  That’s the way I feel when I think about what percentage of my life is spent talking (or waiting on hold) with the IRS.  I could probably figure it out, but I would rather remain ignorant of those details.  Well, even after having logged hundreds or thousands of hours with them, I can honestly say that I have never been asked to support any particular political candidate.

Recently an IRS call center employee was suspended for 100 days after the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) determined that he/she had violated the Hatch Act by engaging in partisan political activity while on the clock.  This particular worker encouraged callers to vote for Obama on taxpayers’ dime.  This “encouragement” came in the form of some kind of chant based on the spelling of the employee’s last name.  I would love to know what this sounded like, but exact details were not given.  In fact, IF ANYBODY CAN PRODUCE AUDIO OF THE IRS EMPLOYEE WHO PROMOTED OBAMA’S CANDIDACY BY RECITING A CUTE LITTLE CHANT AT THE END OF EACH CALL, PLEASE CONTACT ME IMMEDIATELY.

There have been plenty of times when I thought that the IRS representative was getting a bit too chummy with me.  I really don’t mind that; I like to see that they are enjoying their job.  But I wouldn’t want to see them get in trouble.  The worst I’ve heard is when they start bashing the IRS and complaining about their job, their equipment, other IRS departments, their flawed internal processes.  That actually happens fairly regularly.  As far as I know there is nothing illegal about this kind of behavior, but I don’t imagine a supervisor would appreciate hearing it.

The real controversy in this story is that the OSC investigation actually resulted in the termination of a postal worker who violated the Hatch Act, whereas the IRS worker was only suspended.  There are significant differences in the facts of each case.  You be the judge and read about those differences here.

IRS Hopes to Answer 63% of Calls in 2013

image via thewashingtonnote.com

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) released its annual report to Congress today which focuses on a few main themes: tax code simplification/reform, increased funding for the IRS, greater safeguards against identity theft, and improved taxpayer service.

For anyone working in the field of tax relief, and for taxpayers who contact the IRS seeking to address their back tax debt, some of the most interesting statistics are related to taxpayer service.  The IRS has a notoriously poor customer service record, especially with regard to the phones:

  • IRS received over 100 million calls in fiscal year 2012 and 30% went unanswered
  • Average wait time was almost 17 minutes in FY 2012
  • IRS goal is to answer 63% of incoming calls in FY 2013, down seven percent from 2012

And these numbers tend to get worse year after year.  Obviously the decline in customer service is closely related to the reduction in funding to the IRS.  However, I don’t know how they can seriously set a goal of answering only 63% of calls.  What an embarassment!

IRS Customer Service Audit

The two things you can be sure of in life are, as the saying goes, death and taxes.  As for the taxes, they are apparently unavoidable on many different levels.  If it’s not the payment of taxes, it’s the waiting on hold with the IRS to get answers to your tax questions.  It has become a fact of life and, as a tax relief attorney, I think I have accepted it.

Wanna see what I’m talking about?  Click here for IRS phone numbers.  Enjoy!

The average wait time has increased every year since 2007.  According to a recent TIGTA audit, IRS average telephone hold times were up to 10 minutes during the 2011 filing season.

During that same timeframe, the IRS achieved a 74.6 percent level of service. Doesn’t sound too impressive until you realize that their goal was 71 percent. So, yes, the IRS surpassed its goal, but you’re probably wondering why they are not setting their sights a little higher.  Well, the answer given by TIGTA is the same tired old problem of limited resources and increased demand. And what exactly is the “level of service” measurement anyway? It’s actually a comparison of the total number of taxpayers who attempt to call the toll-free telephone lines (a whopping 80 million during the 2011 filing season) and the number of taxpayers who actually gain access to the system and are placed in the IRS queue. Certainly a big percentage of the callers hang up before connecting, I know I have more than once.

One bright spot, in my opinion, is the “Estimated Wait Time Message” feature that was implemented for the first time a few years ago. What this does is it helps me to decide if I want to hang up and try again when the call volume is lower. It is actually very helpful, and I have noticed that the estimates are usually pretty accurate.

Nobody likes waiting on hold, but if you consider the massive volume of calls that come in to the IRS each day, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have to “take a number.”  I think the hold times would be even easier to swallow if, when you finally did connect with a representative, you were greeted by a somebody with solid customer service skills.  It’s the whole quality vs. quantity issue.  But I guess that’s for another day and outside the scope of this particular audit.