IR-2017-113, June 28, 2017
WASHINGTON — National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson today released her statutorily mandated mid-year report to Congress that presents a review of the 2017 Filing Season, identifies the priority issues the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will address during the upcoming fiscal year, and contains the IRS’s responses to each of the 93 administrative recommendations the Advocate made in her 2016 Annual Report to Congress.
The report says the IRS delivered a generally successful filing season in 2017. The IRS processed nearly 130 million returns, about 90 percent of which were filed electronically. Seventy-five percent of the returns resulted in refunds, and the average refund amount was $2,763. The IRS successfully implemented several provisions of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, which directed the IRS to delay paying refunds until February 15 to taxpayers claiming either the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit and required the IRS to deactivate Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) based on age of issuance and non-use. During Filing Season (FS) 2017, the IRS answered 79 percent of the telephone calls it received on its “Account Management” (AM) telephone lines that were routed to telephone assistors.
The IRS compliance telephone lines, which are not included in the AM category, showed significant declines. Of note, the IRS received about 2.7 million calls on its “Installment Agreement/Balance Due” line. “For the most part, these calls come from taxpayers who are seeking to make payment arrangements – the sort of calls most private businesses would pick up immediately,” the report says. Yet the IRS answered only 40 percent of these calls during FS 2017 (down from 76 percent in FS 2016), and wait times increased from 11 minutes in FS 2016 to a staggering 47 minutes in FS 2017.
Despite answering a higher percentage of calls on its AM telephone lines, IRS telephone assistors actually answered 25 percent fewer calls during FS 2017 as compared with FS 2016. That occurred because taxpayer calls routed to AM telephone assistors declined by even more – 32 percent. Had IRS telephone assistors received the same number of calls during FS 2017 as they received during FS 2016, they would have answered only 54 percent of taxpayer calls (rather than 79 percent). Therefore, while the uptick in the percentage of AM calls answered was welcome news this year, the report cautions that the IRS has not necessarily turned the corner in strengthening its telephone service. The report also notes that the FY 2018 budget proposal for the IRS projects the agency will answer only 39 percent of taxpayer calls routed to telephone assistors next year.
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