Congress acts to reform the IRS, enhance taxpayer protections
The U.S. Senate has passed, and President Trump is expected to sign into law, a broad package of reforms aimed at the IRS. Among other things, the Taxpayer First Act contains several new protections for taxpayers, along with provisions intended to improve the IRS’s customer service.
Stronger safeguards against identity theft
Several of the bill’s provisions address tax-related identity theft. For example, the bill generally requires the IRS to notify a taxpayer as soon as practicable when it suspects or confirms an unauthorized use of the individual’s identity. The IRS also must:
- Provide the taxpayer instructions on how to file a report with law enforcement on the unauthorized use,
- Identify any steps the individual should take to permit law enforcement to access his or her personal information during the investigation,
- Provide information regarding the actions the taxpayer can take to protect him- or herself from harm, and
- Offer identity protection measures, such as the use of an “identity protection personal identification number” (IP PIN).
The bill also requires the IRS to establish a program within five years that allows all taxpayers to request IP PINs to better secure their identity when filing their tax returns. This protection currently is available only to victims of tax-related identity theft.
The IRS must provide a suspected victim with additional notifications regarding whether it has initiated an investigation into the unauthorized use and whether the investigation has substantiated such unauthorized use. It also must notify the individual of whether any action has been taken against someone relating to the unauthorized use or whether any referral for criminal prosecution has been made.
And the IRS must ensure that victims of tax-related identity theft have a single point of contact at the agency throughout the processing of their cases. That contact must track the taxpayer’s case to completion and coordinate with other IRS employees to resolve the taxpayer’s issues as quickly as possible.
Greater appeals rights
The Taxpayer First Act codifies into law the IRS’s already-existing, independent Office of Appeals. It also expands taxpayers’ rights of appeal regarding tax matters.
For example, under the law, the IRS must provide certain taxpayers who request a conference with the Office of Appeals with access to the nonprivileged portions of the case file on the disputed issues no later than 10 days before the scheduled conference date. Currently, taxpayers must file a Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to their case files.
The resolution process available through the appeals office generally is available to all taxpayers. If a taxpayer’s request to appeal an IRS notice of deficiency is denied, the IRS must give the taxpayer a written notice with a detailed description of the facts involved, the basis for the denial and a detailed explanation of how the basis applies to the facts. The notice also must describe the procedures for protesting the denial.
Customer service improvements
The bill gives the IRS one year to develop and submit to Congress a comprehensive customer service strategy. The strategy must include a plan to extend assistance to taxpayers that’s secure and designed to meet reasonable taxpayer expectations. The plan must adopt appropriate customer service best practices from the private sector, including online services, telephone callback services and training of customer service employees.
Separately, the bill requires the IRS to supply helpful information to taxpayers who are on hold during a telephone call to any IRS help line. That information includes common tax scams, where and how to report tax scams, and additional advice on how taxpayers can protect themselves from identity theft and tax crimes.
The Taxpayer First Act tackles many other areas, including:
Structuring. The bill establishes new protections from IRS enforcement abuses of so-called “structuring laws.” Those laws let the agency seize taxpayer assets when a taxpayer appeared to make bank deposits in amounts just under the $10,000 trigger for bank reporting requirements.
Whistleblower reforms. The bill permits the IRS to disclose to a whistleblower tax return information related to the investigation of any taxpayer about whom the whistleblower has provided information (to the extent necessary to obtain information that isn’t otherwise reasonably available). It also mandates certain updates to whistleblowers on investigations and adds antiretaliation provisions.
Electronic filing. The IRS generally must eventually require individuals filing 10 or more returns — down significantly from the current 250-return threshold — to file electronically. The lower threshold will be phased in, falling to 100 returns for 2021 and 10 returns in 2022. Special rules apply to partnerships.
And that’s not all
The far-reaching bill will affect a variety of other areas, such as cybersecurity, innocent spouse relief, private debt collection and misdirected tax refund deposits. We’ll keep you abreast of these and other relevant tax developments.