The Internal Revenue Service has described their desire to provide “good customer service” to taxpayers. I can honestly say that in the almost 24 year existence of our Redlands CPA firm, the ability to speak to get through and speak to someone willing or able to resolve tax issues is the worst I have ever seen.
Think about your reaction when you go to the mailbox and find correspondence from the IRS. Your first reaction is that what is inside is probably bearing not good news.
I ask our CPA firm clients to forward to us any correspondence from tax authorities that they receive and in almost all cases we will respond for them no charge. Our initial response to a proposed assessment notice has been typically in the form of a letter in order to start a document trail on the issue. We are finding more often than not recently that a second notice gets issued before the IRS responds to our initial letter. Now we have to call.
In the last month I have spent hours on hold with the IRS attempting to resolve matters for clients. I have gotten to know that Mozart hold music pretty well! Once I do get through, the IRS “customer service” agent often cannot resolve my issue. As a tax practitioner I can call the “IRS tax practitioner hotline”. The agents at this phone number used to be pretty effective in resolving matters for our clients but that is no longer the case. I guess the hotline has gone cold.
The inability to resolve the issue is even more prevalent if delays have caused the proposed assessment to be transferred to the collection department. The collection department will continue their process even if another IRS department has acknowledged receipt of our letters. The only purpose of the phone call then becomes a request to put collection of the assessment on hold while we wait for the other department to read our earlier correspondence and respond. If they agree the collection department will typically place a two to eight week hold on collection depending on who you talk to.
Things are not better at the California Franchise Tax Board. Through the voice message system of the Franchise Tax Board I have been (1) told that due to high call volume my call cannot be taken at this time and (2) been provided a specific range of time that I would get a call back that is not received during that time. We have to work through this process otherwise our clients would be subject to continued notices generated by Franchise Tax Board computers.
The above issues are not with the individuals who work with the IRS or Franchise Tax Board. The folks I have spoken with for the most part have been pleasant but have been handcuffed with a difficult task. If I were in charge of the IRS or Franchise Tax Board (please do not give me that job!), I would make sure that taxpayers can feel confident that what are often interpreted as threatening letters generated by computers can be addressed effectively and allocate resources accordingly. The cost of ineffective taxpayer customer service creates a drain on the revenue that can be generated from the tax collection process.
In the meantime, my advice is for everyone to make sure that their tax returns report income, deductions and tax payments as accurately as possible to help avoid getting the notices. Spending less time writing and now especially on the phone with our government can make your Life Less Taxing.