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IRS scores high on taxpayer help, but expect to wait

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Alert: According to the latest report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the IRS still needs to improve the quality of its customer service. But the news isn’t all bad.

TIGTA conducted a new audit of IRS customer service as a follow-up to a previous report. Although the IRS scored high marks for providing helpful and accurate information to the public, TIGTA cited lengthy wait times and scheduling deficiencies as two key problem areas.

To prepare the report, TIGTA auditors posed as taxpayers and asked tax-related questions on the toll-free IRS telephone assistance lines, at, and from Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TAC). The auditors said they received accurate responses to tax law questions and were able to accurately prepare tax returns using the various IRS resources, including the Free File Program. Also, contact recordings of tax return preparation assistance provided at TAC throughout the country showed that IRS staffers accurately prepared tax returns.

Speeding up the process

However, the report revealed that taxpayers may experience long wait times at TAC and on the phone. At TAC, the TIGTA auditors waited an average of one hour to receive assistance. In some cases, they were turned away and told to return at another time to obtain services. In addition, TACs do not always allow qualified taxpayers to schedule appointments and do not consistently apply new taxpayer screening guidelines and procedures.

Specifically, TIGTA recommended in its report that the Wage and Investment Division reinforce existing controls to ensure TAC managers can better schedule appointments requested by taxpayers who have ongoing, complex problems or taxpayers who have special needs, such as a disability. It also advised the IRS to modify and TAC telephone recordings to notify taxpayers that they may be asked to provide identification and Social Security numbers to receive assistance. This can speed up the process.

Tip: The IRS is expected to react promptly to the recommendations.

—Adapted from AccountingWEB Inc., www.accounting­

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