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IRS Phone Lines May Reopen as Agency Adjusts to ‘New Reality’

Posted on Apr. 10, 2020

The IRS’s automated collection system should be accepting calls soon, although all other tax agency public phone lines except international remain shut down, according to Deputy National Taxpayer Advocate Bridget Roberts.

“Because [employees of the Taxpayer Advocate Service are] the only people who are actually, really still answering the phone, as you can imagine, we have been swamped,” Roberts said during an April 9 American Bar Association Section of Taxation webinar on tax collection during the coronavirus pandemic.

The IRS’s pandemic response “just goes beyond sort of what we saw during last year’s shutdown” of the federal government for 35 days, Roberts said. “It's kind of a new reality for us.”

The agency has been procuring “tens of thousands” of laptop computers configured to permit employees to telework, Roberts said.

While phone lines for taxpayer and practitioner assistance aren’t operating yet, Roberts said the IRS may be able to reopen its help lines regarding Form 1040, balance due, and other services as more of its new work-from-home employees become equipped.

All IRS campuses are closed, so correspondence processing has ground to a halt, Roberts said, adding that mail is being held at the IRS, by local post offices, or in some cases being returned to the sender as undeliverable. In every case, tax professionals and taxpayers need to keep meticulous records even of attempted communications with the IRS, she advised.

IRS and TAS fax lines are still working, Roberts added. Most TAS and IRS employees prepared for telework can accept electronic faxes, she said.

What’s Good at TAS?

TAS won't be conducting face-to-face meetings until further notice, Roberts said. While the main TAS phone lines are closed, local offices have been fielding an average of 100 calls per day from taxpayers, “so with upwards of 77 offices [nationwide], you’re looking at upwards of 38,000 calls a week,” she said.

TAS’s work is hampered by the cumbersome transition to telework, Roberts said, adding that “TAS can only work cases when there is someone on the IRS side who can respond” to taxpayer advocate queries and take action. TAS can’t release a lien or resolve an audit without IRS concurrence, she noted. “So if there’s no one on the IRS side for us to talk to, there is a limit to what TAS can do,” she said.

TAS won’t be taking taxpayers’ calls about Congress’s anticipated economic impact payments, partly because of reduced taxpayer advocate office capacity, and partly because the payments aren’t yet TAS cases, Roberts said.

For now, TAS is working with the IRS to prioritize cases for when the tax agency resumes normal operations, Roberts said.

In the meantime, Roberts worried, “As the number of cases we are getting continues to increase, and as everyone is realizing that we are the only ones who are answering the phone, we’re going to ultimately get further behind, and there’s not a whole lot we can do."

“Our employees are working as quickly as they can, but there’s only so much that they can do,” Roberts said.

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