AICPA demands IRS pick up the phone faster for tax pros

Accounting

The American Institute of CPAs wants the Internal Revenue Service to pick up the phone faster on its so-called Practitioner Priority Service for tax professionals and make other fixes, pointing to a “plummeting” level of service in recent years.

Taxpayers and tax pros alike have long complained about the difficulty of reaching the IRS over the phone and those complaints have mounted during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite recent efforts by the IRS to ease the burden that the backlog has caused for taxpayers and practitioners, the AICPA notes that service levels for the practitioner priority service phone line had been in continuous decline for several years.

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s annual report to Congress found that the percentage of calls answered on the PPS line declined from 78.3% in fiscal year 2019 to 28.0% in FY 2021, with the average speed of answering the phone nearly doubling from 8.8 minutes to 16.1 minutes over that same period. Still, that was better than the level of service for regular taxpayers, where the percentage of calls answered by IRS employees declined from 28.7% in FY 2019 to 11.4% in FY 2021 and the average speed of answer went from 16.2 minutes in FY 2019 to 22.8 minutes in FY 2021. Many taxpayers have complained they were unable to get through at all. 

“We are hearing from tax practitioners everyday regarding their significant PPS line challenges and the impact those challenges have on their interactions with IRS on behalf of taxpayers,” said the AICPA letter. 

The AICPA submitted comments to the IRS on a number of challenges with the PPS line and provided suggestions for improving the experience for tax practitioners and IRS customer service representatives alike.

“The recommendations we’ve provided to the IRS are important adjustments that could drastically improve service for countless practitioners and their clients. They would also serve to empower customer service representatives and enable them to perform their duties more efficiently,” said AICPA vice president of tax policy and advocacy Edward Karl in a statement Wednesday. “We strongly urge the IRS to consider implementing these recommendations as part of their plan to reduce the backlog and improve services, and believe that doing so will have a significant positive impact on services provided by the IRS.”

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Natalia Bratslavsky/Adobe

In general, the AICPA recommended that the IRS staff the PPS line again with highly trained, highly empowered personnel. The customer service reps should stop asking practitioners for their Social Security numbers and birth dates. The IRS needs to improve its new automatic return call system, as well as empowering PPS customer service reps from one line to handle all types of calls, whether they involve the IRS business master file, individual master file or exempt organization areas.

The IRS should require all PPS customer service reps to accept and consider submission of correspondence, documentation and other communication by taxpayers or their representatives through e-services or facsimile, the AICPA recommended, as well as allowing reps to process and post extensions. The service needs to provide more supervisor availability, according to the AICPA, and enable PPS customer service reps to handle international tax issues and international taxpayers and apply first-time abatement in international situations, such as penalties. The institute also wants the IRS to prohibit PPS customer service reps from answering a call when their shift ends within the next 15 minutes, and investigate systemic call-answering issues.

Some of the issues involve specific matters, such as power of attorney requests. If, at the start of a PPS call, the practitioner indicates that their POA is probably not on file, the IRS rep should provide a fax number to the practitioner at the start of the call, the AICPA suggested. Where a delegated POA is presented and appears in order, they shouldn’t require the first POA be posted to the central authorization file before recognizing the delegated POA. The IRS should make sure their PPS customer service reps are consistently educated about proper taxpayer business entity titles, the AICPA recommended, and should allow use of POAs that are signed by the taxpayer and the representative calling in, even if it’s not yet signed by the other listed representatives.

When it comes to tax transcripts, the AICPA recommended the IRS should reinstate providing internal screen-print types of transcripts over the phone during PPS calls, as well as restoring the IRS message line for transcripts, but eliminate the “law line,” the line used to provide interpretations of law.

As for the IRS’s accounts management function versus its automated collection system, the AICPA suggested the IRS should restore the ability to grant cycle holds with accounts management staff, empower its automated collection systems to resolve more account issues, and authorize PPS customer service reps to grant 180-day holds where correspondence was sent in to the agency.

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