Return to Sender

A client was selected for a correspondence audit; the IRS asked the client to submit all the documentation regarding a tax credit taken on a recent return. The client had all the documentation, made his photocopies, and mailed off the notice using certified mail, return receipt requested. Imagine his surprise when three weeks later–two weeks after the deadline to respond–he receives his package back. Did he forget to attach postage? No, he mailed it at a post office. Did he put the incorrect address on the envelope? No, the address matched exactly. Did the post office make a mistake? No, the IRS did.

The client’s response was directed to go to the Andover (Massachusetts) Service Center. Apparently the Andover IRS office no longer gets mail at the address on the notice (a PO Box in Andover). Instead, the mail is redirected to the Service Center’s street address. Surely one agency of the government (the IRS) can communicate to another (the Postal Service), right?

Well, no. The IRS submitted a forwarding order to the Post Office. That order expired. So what happens when a forwarding order expires? The mail is returned to the sender.

Now, my client did nothing wrong–he responded timely. When he received the package back he called the IRS to alert them to the issue (hopefully in time to stop a Notice of Deficiency from being issued). If this matter were to get to the Tax Court, I’m pretty sure the Court wouldn’t be as amused as I was with the IRS’s overall actions. Shouldn’t the IRS be aware of where mail should be sent to?

If this were the only recent example of this I’d take it as a one-off. However, we received a notice from the Memphis Service Center for our own business (asking for a copy of a payroll filing). We duly made the photocopy and my Office Manager went to the Post Office to mail the response (using certified mail, return receipt requested). The Post Office told my Office Manager that they couldn’t take the mail as the address on the notice didn’t exist! I am not making this up. (I called the IRS up and was directed to send this to the Ogden Service Center.)

But consider taxpayers who aren’t represented by professionals or who aren’t as familiar with the IRS. They correctly respond to IRS notices but their responses don’t make it. If I had just put a stamp on the response to Memphis I might not have discovered the response didn’t make it for several weeks (returned mail takes quite a bit of time to get back to the sender). My client may still have to go to Tax Court because of the IRS’s error. These are issues that shouldn’t be happening.

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