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Taxpayer Advocate's Report To Congress & Focuses on Taxpayer Impact of Processing and Refund Delays


National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins today released her 2021 Annual Report to Congress, calling calendar year 2021 “the most challenging year taxpayers and tax professionals have ever experienced.” The report says tens of millions of taxpayers experienced delays in the processing of their returns, and with 77 percent of individual taxpayers receiving refunds, “processing delays translated directly into refund delays.”

The report says “[t]he imbalance between the IRS’s workload and its resources has never been greater.” Since fiscal year (FY) 2010, the IRS’s workforce has shrunk by 17 percent, while its workload – as measured by the number of individual return filings – has increased by 19 percent. The report reiterates the National Taxpayer Advocate’s longstanding recommendation that Congress provide the IRS with sufficient funding to serve taxpayers well.

Major challenges for taxpayers

“There is no way to sugarcoat the year 2021 in tax administration,“ Collins wrote. “The year 2021 provided no shortage of taxpayer problems.”

“While my report focuses primarily on the problems of 2021, I am deeply concerned about the upcoming filing season,” Collins added in releasing the report. 


“Paper Is The IRS’s Kryptonite, And
The Agency Is Still Buried In It.”

As of late December, the IRS had backlogs of 6 million unprocessed original individual returns (Forms 1040), 2.3 million unprocessed amended individual returns (Forms 1040-X), more than 2 million unprocessed employer’s quarterly tax returns (Forms 941 and 941-X), and about 5 million pieces of taxpayer correspondence – with some of these submissions dating back at least to April and many taxpayers still waiting for their refunds nine months later.

Although e-filed returns fared better than paper returns, the report says millions of e-filed returns were suspended during processing due to discrepancies between amounts claimed on the returns and amounts reflected on IRS records.

The report says processing delays led to a cascade of customer service problems:

The IRS’s “Where’s My Refund?” tool often could not answer the question. Taxpayers attempted to check the status of their refunds on IRS.gov more than 632 million times last year, but “Where’s My Refund?” does not provide information on unprocessed returns, and it does not explain any status delays, the reasons for delays, where returns stand in the processing pipeline, or what actions taxpayers need to take, if any. For taxpayers who experienced significant refund delays, the tool often did not do its job.

Telephone service was the worst it has ever been. The combination of processing delays and questions about new programs like the AdvCTC caused call volumes to almost triple from the prior year to a record 282 million telephone calls. Customer service representatives (CSRs) only answered about 32 million, or 11 percent, of those calls. As a result, most callers could not obtain answers to their tax law questions, get help with account problems, or speak with a CSR about a compliance notice. “Among the lucky one in nine callers who was able to reach a CSR, the IRS reported that hold times averaged 23 minutes,” the report says. “Practitioners and taxpayers have reported that hold times were often much longer, and frustration and dissatisfaction was high throughout the year with the low level of phone service.”

The IRS took months to process taxpayer responses to its notices, further delaying refunds. The IRS sent tens of millions of notices to taxpayers during 2021. These included nearly 14 million math error notices, Automated Underreporter notices (where an amount reported on a tax return did not match the corresponding amount reported to the IRS on a Form 1099 or other information reporting document), notices requesting a taxpayer authenticate his or her identity where IRS filters flagged a return as potentially fraudulent, correspondence examination notices and collection notices. In many cases, taxpayer responses were required, and if the IRS did not process a response, its automated processes could take adverse action or not release the refund claimed on the tax return. The IRS received 6.2 million taxpayer responses to proposed adjustments and took an average of 199 days to process them – up from 74 days in FY 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year.

The ten most serious problems encountered by taxpayers.By statute, the National Taxpayer Advocate is required to identify the ten most serious problems encountered by taxpayers in their dealings with the IRS. This year’s report details the following problems: processing and refund delays; challenges in employee recruitment, hiring, and training; telephone and in-person taxpayer service; transparency and clarity; filing season delays; limitations of online taxpayer accounts; limitations in digital taxpayer communications, including e-mail; e-filing barriers; correspondence audits; and the impact of collection policies on low-income taxpayers. For each problem, the report includes an IRS response.

Taxpayer Advocate Service administrative recommendations to the IRS

The report makes numerous recommendations to address taxpayer problems, including the following:

  • Utilize scanning technology and reduce barriers to e-filing. The IRS could reduce its backlog of paper tax returns by using scanning technology to machine read returns, as many state tax agencies have been doing for more than ten years. In addition, some taxpayers who try to e file their returns are blocked for several reasons, including when they need to file certain tax forms that the IRS has not programmed its systems to receive electronically. These Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) recommendations would reduce the need for IRS employees to manually transcribe the data from paper returns – the primary cause of the backlog and of transcription errors that led to math error notices and refund delays. For individual taxpayers who filed on paper, the report says “roughly one out of every four returns had a transcription error that could trigger an unwarranted compliance action or an erroneous refund that the IRS might later seek to recover.”
  • Deploy “customer callback” technology on all telephone lines, so taxpayers and tax professionals don’t have to wait on hold and can receive a return call when the next CSR is available. Customer callback technology is not a cure-all for IRS telephone operations because if the IRS workforce only has the capacity to answer 32 million telephone calls, as it did last year, customer callback will not enable the IRS to handle the 250 million calls that went unanswered. However, many taxpayers call the IRS multiple times before they get through, and if effectively used, customer callback technology could substantially reduce the need for repeat calls.
  • Improve online taxpayer accounts and allow taxpayers to communicate with the IRS routinely by secure email. The report says online taxpayer accounts are plagued by limited functionality. For example, taxpayers generally cannot use their online accounts to view images of past tax returns, most IRS notices, or proposed assessments; file documents; or update their addresses. Similarly, the IRS generally does not communicate with taxpayers by email. Limitations on communicating with the IRS electronically frustrate taxpayers who have been conducting comparable transactions with financial institutions for more than two decades. This increases the number of telephone calls and pieces of correspondence the IRS receives and leads to more paper processing delays.
  • Create and update a weekly “dashboard” on IRS.gov to provide the public with specific information about delays. The IRS has created a webpage, IRS Operations During COVID-19: Mission-critical functions continue, that provides certain high-level information. However, it does not provide detailed information on processing backlogs, saying for amended returns only that “[t]he current timeframe can be more than 20 weeks.” It does not provide detailed information on correspondence backlogs, saying only that processing mail “is taking longer than usual,” and “[t]he exact timeframe varies depending on the type of issue.” It does not provide information on recent telephone delays, even though doing so would give taxpayers a better sense of whether they should devote the time to calling. TAS recommends that the IRS post a filing season dashboard, updated at least weekly, that lists each category of work and the length of time it is taking to complete it. This should include the number of weeks to process original paper tax returns and amended paper tax returns, the number of weeks to process math error and other taxpayer correspondence by category, and the percentage of taxpayers who called the IRS the previous week and reached an employee.    

National Taxpayer Advocate “Purple Book” of legislative recommendations

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2022 Purple Book proposes 68 legislative recommendations for consideration by Congress. Among them are the following:

  • Provide sufficient funding for the IRS to improve taxpayer service and modernize its information technology systems. The IRS receives its annual appropriation in four accounts: Taxpayer Services, Enforcement, Operations Support, and Business Systems Modernization. During the past year, there has been considerable discussion about substantially increasing funding for the Enforcement account and related activities in the Operations Support account. To address taxpayer problems identified in this report, TAS recommends that Congress substantially increase funding for the Taxpayer Services account.
  • Extend the period for receiving refunds when the IRS postpones the tax filing deadline. When a taxpayer files a timely refund claim, the IRS generally is permitted to refund only amounts paid within the preceding three years. If a taxpayer files a return on April 15 in Year 1, the IRS generally may issue a refund until April 15 in Year 4. In 2020, the IRS postponed the filing deadline for tax year 2019 tax returns from April 15 to July 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Taxpayers who filed their returns on July 15, 2020, may reasonably believe they have until July 15, 2023, to obtain full refunds. However, income tax withholding and estimated tax payments for tax year 2019 are deemed paid on April 15, 2020. As a result, refund claims filed after April 15, 2023, will be limited to the amounts taxpayers paid or were deemed to have paid by April 15, 2020. A similar issue will arise in 2024 because the IRS postponed the 2021 filing deadline to May 17. This result was not anticipated and will prevent some taxpayers from receiving the full refunds to which they are otherwise entitled. TAS recommends Congress clarify that a postponement of the filing deadline extends the lookback period for paying refunds.
  • Authorize the IRS to establish minimum standards for paid tax return preparers. Most taxpayers hire tax return preparers to complete their returns, and visits to preparers by Government Accountability Office and Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration auditors posing as taxpayers, as well as IRS compliance studies, have found paid preparers make significant errors that both harm taxpayers and reduce tax compliance. Ten years ago, the IRS sought to implement minimum preparer standards, including requiring otherwise non-credentialed preparers to pass a basic competency test, but a federal court concluded the IRS could not do so without statutory authorization. TAS recommends Congress provide that authorization.
  • Expand the U.S. Tax Court’s jurisdiction to hear refund cases. Under current law, taxpayers who owe tax and wish to litigate a dispute with the IRS must go to the U.S. Tax Court, while taxpayers who have paid their tax and are seeking a refund must file suit in a U.S. district court or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The Tax Court is an easier forum to navigate, and it has established relationships with the Low Income Taxpayer Clinics and other pro bono programs that assist taxpayers when they litigate their cases in Tax Court. TAS recommends that taxpayers be given the option to litigate all tax disputes in the U.S. Tax Court.
  • Restructure the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to make it simpler for taxpayers and reduce improper payments. TAS has long advocated for dividing the EITC into two credits: (i) a refundable worker credit based on each individual worker’s earned income unrelated to the presence of qualifying children and (ii) a refundable child credit. For wage earners, claims for the worker credit could be verified with nearly 100 percent accuracy by matching claims on tax returns against Forms W-2, reducing the improper payments rate on those claims to nearly zero. The portion of the EITC that currently varies based on family size would be combined with a child credit into a larger family credit. The National Taxpayer Advocate published a report making this recommendation in 2019, and TAS continues to advocate for it.
  • Expand the protection of taxpayer rights by strengthening the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) program. The LITC program effectively assists low-income taxpayers and taxpayers who speak English as a second language. When the LITC grant program was established in 1998, the law limited annual grants to no more than $100,000 per clinic. The law also imposed a 100 percent “match” requirement (meaning a clinic cannot receive more in LITC grant funds than it is able to match on its own). The nature and scope of the LITC program has evolved considerably since 1998, and those requirements are preventing the program from providing high quality assistance to eligible taxpayers. TAS recommends that Congress remove the per-clinic cap and allow the IRS to reduce the match requirement to 50 percent where doing so would provide coverage for additional taxpayers.

Other sections in the report

The report contains a taxpayer rights assessment that presents performance measures and other relevant data, a description of TAS’s case advocacy operations during FY 2021, a summary of key TAS systemic advocacy accomplishments, and a discussion of the ten federal tax issues most frequently litigated during the preceding year. The section on most litigated tax issues for the first time contains an analysis of substantially all cases petitioned in the Tax Court rather than simply decided cases, providing a much broader view of issues taxpayers bring to court. Also for the first time, the report includes a section titled “At a Glance,” which provides concise summaries of the ten “most serious problems.” It is intended to give readers a quick overview of each issue so they can decide which ones they want to read about in depth. 


Have an IRS Tax Problem?


     Contact the Tax Lawyers at

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TC Grants Ex-Wife Innocent Spouse Relief Even Though She Knew About the Deficiency But Not What Caused It

T's he Tax Court in Todisco, TC Summ 2021-35, granted a wife innocent spouse relief for two tax years even though she knew about tax deficiencies in the earlier year when she signed the later year's tax return.

Ms. Gonzales was married to Mr. Todisco during 2010 and 2015. They filed a joint return. Ms. Gonzales did not have any income. Mr. Todisco worked in construction.

The IRS sent the couple a notice of deficiency denying certain job-related deductions that Mr. Todisco took.

The couple divorced in 2016, and Ms. Gonzales filed for innocent spouse relief with regards to the 2010 and 2015 tax year returns.

It was undisputed that Ms. Gonzales met the requirements of Code Sec. 6015(b)(1)(A)Code Sec. 6015(b)(1)(B), and Code Sec. 6015(b)(1)(E).

The Tax Court held that Ms. Gonzales was entitled for innocent spouse relief under Code Sec. 6015(b) for both 2010 and 2015.

The Court discussed whether Ms. Gonzales knew or had reason to know of the understatements under Code Sec. 6015(b)(1)(C) and whether it was inequitable to hold Ms. Gonzales liable for the tax deficiencies under Code Sec. 6015(b)(1)(D).

The Court said that Ms. Gonzales credibly testified at trial that she: (1) did not know any specific details about Mr. Todisco's job-related expenses for either year at issue; (2) was not involved in the preparation of the returns; and (3) did not review the returns before signing.

The Court held that even though Ms. Gonzales admitted that, at the time she signed the 2015 return, she knew about the existence of the 2010 deficiency she credibly testified that she did not know what caused the deficiency and was not involved in process of providing documents to the IRS with respect to the deficiency. When Ms. Gonzales asked Mr. Todisco to explain the 2010 notice of deficiency, Ms. Gonzales testified that he berated her.

As for determining whether it would be inequitable to hold Ms. Gonzales liable for the taxes, the Court looked to Rev Proc 2013-34, Sec. 4.03, 2013-43 IRB 397. The revenue procedure provides a list of nonexclusive factors to take into account when determining whether to grant equitable relief under section 6015(f): (1) marital status; (2) economic hardship; (3) in the case of an understatement, knowledge or reason to know of the item giving rise to the understatement; (4) legal obligation; (5) significant benefit; (6) compliance with tax laws; and (7) mental or physical health.

Based on those factors, the Court found that it would be inequitable to hold Ms. Gonzales liable.

Have IRS Tax Problems?


     Contact the Tax Lawyers at

Marini & Associates, P.A. 


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15% OECD Minimum Tax Triggered By Earning €750M ($846 million) in 2 Of 4 Years

According to Law360, new international minimum tax rules would apply to global companies with revenue above €750 million for at least two out of four years, according to a text released Monday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The scope is in line with a draft of the rules, which reflect the minimum tax agreed to in principle by nearly 140 jurisdictions in October, reported on by Law360 last week. Countries at that time also agreed on the outlines of an additional so-called pillar that redistributes some tax revenue of the world's largest corporations.

"The model rules released today are a significant building block in the development of a two-pillar solution, converting the foundations of a political agreement reached in October into enforceable rules," said Pascal Saint-Amans, head of the OECD's Center for Tax Policy and Administration, in a news release. Guidelines on implementing the reallocation of taxing rights, known as Pillar One, are expected next year.

The rules for Pillar Two include a 15% minimum effective tax rate on a country-by-country basis, which is designed to ensure that large multinational companies can't escape tax regardless of where they do business. The OECD estimates that the new rules will generate about $150 billion in additional global tax revenues per year.

The minimum tax rules create a "top-up tax" that would apply to profits in a jurisdiction when its effective tax rate drops below the 15% minimum rate. They are due to be transposed into countries' domestic law in 2022 and enter into force in the following year. The European Union is due to present its version of the minimum tax law Wednesday, which will then likely need to be agreed to unanimously by all member countries to become law. Other jurisdictions are expected to introduce similar legislation next year.

The OECD minimum tax rules don't cover all forms of corporate income. They allow for exclusions, or carveouts, of 5% of the carrying value of assets in a jurisdiction. These assets include property, plant and equipment as well as natural resources, leased rights of tangible assets and licenses received from the government. The carveout doesn't include the value of property that is held for sale, lease or investment, the document said.

The OECD said it would release commentary on the model rules and address how they will coexist with the U.S. global intangible low-taxed income rules early next year. Countries working under the auspices of the OECD are working on a model for the "subject to tax" rule, which targets intercompany payments designed to shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions. The OECD plans a public forum on the implementation of Pillar Two in February and one on the subject-to-tax rule in March, the news release said.


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Taxpayers Denied 911 Exclusion For Failing To Sign Their Returns


According to Law360, an American couple who lived in Australia is not owed tax refunds for claimed foreign earned income exclusions
 because they failed to properly file their returns with the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Circuit ruled in 
Brown v. U.S., case number 21-1721, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, on January 5, 2022.

George and Ruth Brown can't claim approximately $13,000 in refunds from the IRS for tax years 2015 and 2017 because they failed to sign their amended returns directly and didn't tender power of attorney to a legal representative, the appeals court said.

The Browns failed to comply with the signature and verification requirements under Internal Revenue Code Section 7422(a), the three-judge panel said in a published, unanimous opinion.

"The Browns Admit That They Neither Signed Their Refund Claims Nor Tendered Powers of Attorney To Permit Their Tax Preparer To Sign The Claims On Their Behalf,"
 U.S. Circuit Judge Alan David Lourie Said In The Court's Opinion.


The Browns lived in Australia for the 2015 and 2017 tax years, during which time George Brown worked for the American company Raytheon, according to the opinion.

John Anthony Castro, an attorney who worked for the Browns, filed three amended tax returns on their behalf that sought refunds relating to the foreign earned income exclusion — outlined under IRC Section 911, which is meant to exclude foreign-sourced income from taxable income.

In a decision letter from April 2019, the IRS explained to the Browns that they wouldn't be receiving the refunds they requested and that as an employee of Raytheon, George Brown may have permanently waived his right to the foreign earned income exclusion by signing a closing agreement with the company, the opinion said.

In June 2019, the Browns filed suit against the government in the Court of Federal Claims, arguing their refunds had been inappropriately denied. In response, the IRS asked the court to dismiss the case, citing a lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the court granted.

The appellate court, however, found that the lower court incorrectly ruled that the "duly filed" requirement in Section 7422(a) is a jurisdictional matter. Instead, the higher court concluded, it's more of a "claims-processing rule."

The Browns were also incorrect in arguing that the IRS had somehow waived the signature and verification requirements of Section 7422(a) by merely processing their refund claims, the appellate court ruled, saying those requirements derive from statute and the IRS doesn't possess the power to waive them.


Have an IRS Tax Problem?


     Contact the Tax Lawyers at

Marini & Associates, P.A. 


for a FREE Tax HELP Contact us at:
www.TaxAid.com or www.OVDPLaw.com
or 
Toll Free at 888 8TAXAID (888-882-9243)

 




Read more at: Tax Times blog