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House Taxwriters Scorch IRS Over Unanswered Calls, Bad Notices

Posted on Feb. 22, 2021

Two senior House taxwriters are urging the IRS to add customer service assistants to deal with a surge of unanswered taxpayer return filing season phone calls and to stop sending erroneous notices.

IRS phone call volumes have tripled since the same time last year, while only 25 percent of taxpayers are getting through, according to the House Ways and Means Committee’s first status report on the 2021 filing season.

Of the 6 million taxpayers whose calls the IRS answered, 3.4 million were subsequently directed to an automated message, said Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., chair of the Oversight Subcommittee, in a February 19 letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

The committee hasn’t released the status report. The IRS usually posts weekly filing season statistics on its website. No numbers for the 2021 filing season had been released by press time.

“The news is alarming,” the taxwriters said. “The need to receive tax assistance may be slowing down the filing of returns.”

The IRS processed just 14 million tax returns during the first week of the 2021 tax return filing season, just 63 percent of the 20 million returns received so far, which in turn is half the number (39.6 million) that the tax agency had received by the same time last year, the taxwriters said.

Two of the IRS’s four refund processing facilities, in Kansas City, Missouri, and Austin, Texas, have shuttered because of the recent ice storms.

“These closures likely will further impact the processing of returns,” the letter said.

Neal and Pascrell asked when the IRS would process a backlog of 6.7 million prior-year returns, and the 20 million returns received so far this year.

‘Enough Is Enough’ 

In a separate letter the same day, Neal and Pascrell urged the IRS to pause issuing potentially incorrect notices to taxpayers caught up in the tax agency’s backlogs.

“The IRS should not resume sending notices to taxpayers until all 2019 tax returns have been processed, the IRS’s backlog has been reduced to pre-pandemic levels, and taxpayer accounts have been updated,” the taxwriters said.

After that, the IRS should review notices to ensure that they are correct and timely, and that taxpayers aren’t penalized for delays beyond their control, the lawmakers advised.

The House taxwriters were responding to the IRS admission that some 260,000 taxpayers had erroneously received CP59 notices claiming that they hadn’t filed a 2019 return. The IRS issued a statement February 18 saying the notices could be disregarded.

But the House Democrats noted that the IRS has a poor track record on erroneous notices, including 1.5 million incorrectly dated balance-due notices, notices sent to taxpayers who had already made payments unopened by the IRS, and 100,000 notices mistakenly sent claiming a taxpayer’s economic impact payment had been offset based on their 2007 tax return.

“Enough is enough,” the leaders’ letter said. “These repeated errors constitute a massive failure of leadership at the highest level.”

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