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Monday April 27, 2015

Washington News

Washington Hotline

IRS 'Courtesy Disconnect' Hearing

During the recent filing season for 2014 tax returns, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen reported a substantial reduction in IRS phone support.

Because of IRS staff reductions, many taxpayers were not able to have questions answered. If the anticipated waiting time was deemed too long by the IRS, there would be an automatic decision by the IRS phone system to terminate the call. The IRS term for hanging up on taxpayers is “courtesy disconnect.”

In comments about the IRS service for taxpayers, Commissioner Koskinen acknowledged that the taxpayer support level this year was “abysmal.”

At a hearing of the House Ways and Means Oversight Committee on April 22nd, Chairman Peter Roskam (R-IL) stated, “For filing season 2015, the IRS reported that only 54% of taxpayers who called the agency were able to talk to a live assister. By April, the IRS estimated that the telephone level of service was less than 40%. Keep in mind that the IRS goal for customer service is 80%.”

Roskam continued to outline some of the specifics of the taxpayer problems with the IRS. He commented, “Those who could get through at all had to wait an average of 34 minutes, over 15 minutes longer than last year. The number of abandoned calls increased by 1.3 million. The IRS also reported that as of April 8, the number of 'courtesy disconnects' – a nicer way to say the system automatically hangs up on you because the wait time would be too long – had reached 5 million.”

Chairman Roskam suggested that a main cause of the reduced service was a decision by the IRS to divert user fees away from phone support for taxpayers to other purposes. During the prior year, $183 million of user fees had been allocated to phone support. Chairman Koskinen reduced this number by 73% to $49 million of user fees allocated to taxpayer support this year.

Ranking Member John Lewis (D-GA) responded and defended the IRS performance. He attributed the failure to provide taxpayer service to the reduced budget for the IRS.

Lewis acknowledged, “Taxpayer service this filing season was terrible. This was not the fault of hardworking IRS employees. National Public Radio (NPR) recently ran a story called, 'IRS Budget Cuts Make for a Nightmarish Filing Season.' Taxpayers seeking assistance from the IRS waited in lines for hours. Only 4 in 10 taxpayers who called the agency were able to talk to a customer service representative.”

Chairman Koskinen noted that the filing season did go “relatively smoothly” with respect to the filing of returns and distribution of taxpayer refunds. However, he explained the failures by noting “Because of cuts to our budget, the agency was unable to provide adequate levels of taxpayer service, as I will explain in detail below. Thus, while I am pleased with the performance of IRS staff in very difficult circumstances, I am disappointed that because of budget cuts, taxpayers did not get the customer service experience they deserved.”

Published April 24, 2015
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