With the approach of our nation’s independence day, we are reminded of the values on which our country was founded: basic freedoms provided to all under the first ten amendments of the Constitution. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to an efficient taxation system.
While the third statement may not jump to the forefront of most Americans’ minds this Fourth of July, many accountants around the country will be fighting for such a fundamental right from the IRS.
In June of 2014, the IRS adopted a “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” enumerating certain foundational rights the IRS must provide to United States taxpayers. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights was intended to inform the nation’s taxpayers of core concepts and provide a fundamental understanding of the taxpayer’s rights in dealing with the tax system. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights includes the following 10 provisions:
- The Right to Be Informed
- The Right to Quality Service
- The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax
- The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard
- The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum
- The Right to Finality
- The Right to Privacy
- The Right to Confidentiality
- The Right to Retain Representation
- The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System
Fast forward one year, amid the turmoil of drastic IRS budget cuts, and tax practitioners have begun advocating for their own bill of rights. On June 11, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee voted to cut the IRS budget by 7.7%, a cut of $838 million. With IRS customer service falling victim to the recent IRS budget cuts, tax practitioners struggle to correspond directly with IRS agents and obtain timely answers to client’s questions and concerns. Phone queues and written correspondence move at a snail’s pace.
As a result, the National Society of Accountants (“NSA”) has drafted and proposed a Tax Practitioners Bill of Rights. Marilyn Niwao, President of the NSA, states, “Congress is not appropriating enough money for the IRS to function properly and so the IRS is not able to do its job. That’s why we need this Tax Practitioners Bill of Rights.” Regarding the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, Niwao further states, “these so-called ‘rights’ are meaningless if a taxpayer’s representative cannot get the information needed from the IRS because Congress has not appropriated sufficient funds to allow the agency to function properly.”
To provide high-quality client service, the NSA demands that tax practitioners be entitled to the following rights:
THE RIGHT TO HAVE TAX LAWS AND RULES PASSED IN A TIMELY MANNER, INCLUDING:
- The right to have tax laws affecting the current tax year enacted no later than September 1 of that year.
- The right to have IRS forms reflecting any new tax laws for the current year available no later than October 1 of that year.
THE RIGHT TO QUALITY SERVICE FROM THE IRS, INCLUDING:
- The right to have telephone calls answered within 15 minutes, on a practitioner-only hotline, staffed by competent/knowledgeable employees.
- The right to have taxpayer correspondence answered within 20 days.
- The right to have any collection action on the taxpayer’s account frozen while the IRS is considering a taxpayer’s timely filed response to IRS collection activity.
- The right to have one IRS representative deal with a tax issue from start to finish until the issue is resolved.
- The right to request a supervisor be involved in resolving a matter if the initiating IRS representative is unwilling or unable to resolve an issue.
- The right for practitioners with Practitioner Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs) to communicate electronically with the IRS on taxpayer matters in a secure manner.
THE RIGHT TO PRACTICE WITHOUT UNDUE IRS DEMANDS DURING TAX FILING SEASON, INCLUDING:
- The right to have an IRS audit moratorium during the three weeks immediately before major tax deadlines such as March 15, April 15, September 15, and October 15 of each year.
- The right to have an IRS moratorium on collection actions or collection information requests during the three weeks immediately before major tax deadlines such as March 15, April 15, September 15, and October 15 of each year.
- The right to have an IRS moratorium on planned software maintenance and computer downtime periods during the three weeks immediately before major tax deadlines such as March 15, April 15, September 15, and October 15 of each year.
Most tax practitioners will appreciate the large deviation many of these rights have from current practice. While this Bill of Rights would represent a vast improvement for tax practitioners and their clients, the gravity of these improvements in customer service, combined with the crippling level of IRS budget cuts, may render the Tax Practitioners Bill of Rights an unattainable goal. Regardless of feasibility, all tax practitioners will agree that an IRS customer-service initiative is long overdue and is absolutely necessary for practitioners to provide the level of service their clients deserve and demand.