It is not news to our readers that the IRS struggles to answer the calls it receives. This frustrates taxpayers and practitioners alike. It interferes with the IRS’s ability to serve taxpayers and impedes taxpayers from understanding and meeting their responsibilities. To help address this problem, a private company, enQ, offers a fee-based service that “drastically reduces the hold time in reaching an IRS agent.”
How does it do this? According to its web-site, it was founded by an MIT trained engineer and “employs proprietary breakthrough patented technology.” The service offers a number of fee-based plans that range from about $100 to $300 a month. While directed at practitioners, it is also available to taxpayers. To obtain a detailed understanding of the way the service works read the Forbes post cited below. Essentially, the person who buys the services gets to jump the line of persons waiting to talk to the IRS by riding the coattails of a robo-call.
The service is controversial.
At Forbes in Is A Private Company’s Automated Dialing Making It Impossible To Reach The IRS?Amber Gray-Fenner wrote a terrific blog post that discusses the service and situates the controversy. As Amber notes, the service implicates issues of fair play and access.
Should phone access to the IRS be dependent on resources and ability and willingness to pay?
Earlier this week Senators Cassidy, Menendez, Young and Warner wrote a letter to Commissioner Rettig. The senators criticize the service and question whether the robo-call approach that enQ apparently uses reduces the quality of phone service for those who do not use the service. The senators also question whether the Service could use Section 7212 to address the problem. That is a criminal statute used when there is an attempt to interfere with administration of internal revenue laws. As the senators explain, “being able to call the IRS is a free, public service that should be available on an equal basis. Paying to receive preferential access to the IRS should not be permitted.”
While criminal prosecution seems a bit far-fetched, the letter highlights how the IRS inability to answer phone calls is inconsistent with fundamental taxpayer rights. The bottom line is that there should not be a need for a service like enQ. The letter ends with a request for the IRS to take steps that would limit the need and demand for the service:
Finally, we ask that you take necessary action to dramatically improve the quality of service called for in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Hold times should be measured by minutes, not hours. The percentage of calls answered should be in the high double-digits, not the high single-digits. Improving service should be an utmost priority to the IRS.