Posts Tagged ‘Practitioner.Priority.Service’

Don’t Call Us Continues

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Back in the 1970s Saturday Night Live had this sketch of Lily Tomlin reprising her role as Ernestine the phone company operator (from Laugh-In):

That’s how I feel about calling the IRS. I have three matters I need to get resolved with the IRS. Today, the response I received when calling the IRS’s Practitioner Priority Service was, “Due to extremely high call volumes that option is not available now. Please try your call again later.” Well, I tried again later. And later. And later still. “We’re sorry, but due to extremely high call volumes that option is not available now. Please try your call again later.”

Meanwhile, we find out today that the IRS has deliberately cut customer service.

During the 2015 tax-filing season, the IRS provided what its own Commissioner described as “abysmal” customer service, blaming skyrocketing wait times for telephone and in-person assistance on agency budget cuts. The IRS even called budget cuts “a tax cut for tax cheats.” But a close review of the agency’s spending shows the IRS deliberately cut $134 million in funding for customer service to pay for other activities. Spending decisions entirely under the IRS’s control led to 16 million fewer taxpayers receiving IRS assistance this filling season. Other spending choices, including prioritizing employee bonuses and union activity on the taxpayer’s dime, used up resources that otherwise could have been used to assist another 10 million taxpayers.

The above quote is from the House Ways and Means Committee majority staff titled “Doing Less with Less: IRS’s Spending Decisions Harm Taxpayers.” There’s not much to add. If I can’t get through I’ll have to write follow-up letters; on one topic it will be my third letter without a response. On another, it’s been over one year without a response.

If anyone thinks the IRS’s budget will be increased for next year, they’re dreaming.

Don’t Call Us

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Today I attempted to call the IRS Practitioner Priority Service (PPS). I had an outstanding issue I needed to resolve. I didn’t get through.

I’m used to being on hold for two hours when calling the IRS. Unfortunately, the IRS has cut staff in customer service. When I called today I reached the normal recording, but every time I attempted to obtain help for an individual not in collections (that’s one of the options when calling the PPS) all I got was, “Due to extremely high call volumes that option is not available now. Please try your call again later.” Sigh.

I imagine the regular phone numbers are just as bad. The IRS estimates that only 53% of phone calls will be answered this tax season. (Of course, given that the IRS’s accuracy in answering tax help questions isn’t particularly good, some of the missed calls may be to a taxpayer’s benefit.)

Still, I have to wonder about the IRS’s priorities. First, the IRS eliminated the ability for tax professionals to use e-services to enter Power of Attorney forms; that increased call volume. The IRS has apparently cut staff at the CAF Unit–the unit that processes the POAs that we now must fax in. It’s taking over a week for those POAs to be processed (the IRS “promised” four business days). That’s increased call volume. Adding the complexity of the new property regulations and the Affordable Care Act is making things worse for everyone.

There’s no moral here–this is more of a rant. But it’s a rant with a consequence: If tax professionals can’t get through on the phone to resolve issues, we’re forced to write letters. This causes delays in resolving matters, leading to more phone calls, more letters, and more cost to the IRS. Unless I’m missing something this is the path we’re heading down.

Life as a Second-Class Citizen

Friday, January 31st, 2014

I’m quite perturbed at the IRS today. The NAEA in its weekly eAlert email confirmed that I am now a second-class citizen. I reported last week about being told that tax professionals might be unable to order transcripts through the Practitioner Priority Service. The NAEA wondered about this, too:

The trouble is that we have also received several messages from members who have been turned away from PPS [Practitioner Priority Service] when requesting client transcripts. When we forwarded examples from EAs who had been denied service and instructed to file Forms 2848 (by fax, of course, because IRS cares about its partners) and wait five days to download transcripts through e-Services, the response was:

We are monitoring implementation of the changes to PPS Service and addressing any inconsistencies identified. The new policy is intended to focus the service we provide on those requests from Tax Practitioners who are working with their clients on tax account related issues that require direct contact with IRS. We will direct requests that do not support tax account work with a client and related to non-tax matters to other appropriate resources. That said, if a Tax Practitioner meeting the above criteria requires a transcript, a transcript will be provided through PPS. [Emphasis added]

So if I’m working on a tax account issue, I can call PPS, hope they agree that it’s a tax account issue, and obtain a transcript. It also means I can no longer obtain a transcript with a Tax Information Authorization (Form 8821) even though the form specifically allows for transcript requests! And even though TIGTA wanted more tax professionals to use 8821s rather than a Form 2848 (Power of Attorney) in situations where all the tax professional needs is a transcript.

I have a few clients who only want me to obtain transcripts on their behalf and do not want me to have a Power of Attorney. They now have the choice of:

  1. Giving me a Power of Attorney, allowing me to obtain transcripts, and then, after I let them know I have obtained the transcripts, revoking the Power of Attorney (giving the overworked IRS CAF unit double-work);
  2. Using the new Get a Transcript option to obtain a transcript themselves. (Though see below for problems with this service.)
  3. Giving me a Tax Information Authorization, and hoping that PPS will bend the rules and order the transcripts.

Meanwhile, the Get a Transcript has its own problems. My partner attempted to use the service, but it could not verify either him or his wife as living where he’s lived for years. Second, the verification information relies on publicly available information for many. (It did for my partner, myself, and one other individual.) This is anything but a secure system. (I have sent a request to TIGTA noting the weakness of the system and requesting that they audit it. If TIGTA audits this, it’s unlikely we will hear anything for many months–probably not until 2015.)

A special demerit needs to be awarded to NAEA for this bad advice:

As we mentioned last week in our coverage of IRS’ new online transcript delivery system (“Get Transcript”), in many cases you may find the process easier if your client goes online to pull his or her own transcript and e-mails it to you. And yes, we know this approach is complete nonsense and share our concern with the agency during nearly every conversation. [Emphasis Added]

While I agree completely with the NAEA that the new IRS policy is complete nonsense, a client should never email a transcript (unless he redacts his social security number by each entry). I requested my Wage & Income Transcript for 2012, and the document has my social security number printed by each item of income. Email is fast, but it is not secure; that’s why we and most tax professionals use a web portal for secure communications. (Had NAEA written, “…and send the transcript by secure means to you,” I’d agree completely with them.)

Overall, we have another step backwards for tax professionals. This will especially impact those with Tax Information Authorizations (8821s) on file and use them for obtaining transcripts. You will now have to obtain Powers of Attorney from every client. There is one other possible solution to this portion of the problem: Have the IRS modify eServices so that we can also obtain information when we have a Tax Information Authorization on file. Until this is done, the Tax Information Authorization has only one value: the ability to be copied on notices the IRS sends to a client.

No More Ordering Transcripts Through Practitioner Priority Service?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

The IRS Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) is a wonderful tool for tax professionals. It allows us an easy way to obtain information on clients, set up installment agreements, and for practitioners to deal with the IRS. This morning I called PPS to order transcripts for a client. During the conversation, the helpful woman informed me that as of this coming Monday, January 27th, PPS will no longer accept requests for transcripts.

Supposedly you will now have to fax the Power of Attorney (IRS Form 2848) to the CAF unit, wait one week for the POA to be entered into the computer system, and then download the transcript from IRS eServices. The woman stated that this new policy is on the IRS website (I couldn’t find it) and that she was told this was going into effect by her supervisor.

I’m hoping the information I received is wrong, but I suspect it isn’t. This new policy is bad for a number of reasons:

– You can no longer use a Tax Information Authorization (IRS Form 8821) to obtain transcripts even though a Form 8821 authorizes a tax professional to receive transcripts and a tax professional is supposed to use Form 8821 when the goal is only to receive a transcript. You cannot order transcripts with an 8821 through eServices.
– It will delay getting taxpayers into compliance with the IRS.
– It will take even longer to resolve issues with the IRS.

In any case, this was a surprise I could have done without.

UPDATE: I asked the NAEA if they knew anything about this. Robert Kerr emailed me back stating he suspects the staffer was misinformed but that he sent it to the National Office for clarification.

IRS Reportedly Will Close eServices’ Disclosure Authorization Program

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA) is reporting via its Facebook page that the IRS has decided to “retire” two products from eServices: Disclosure Authorization (DA) and Electronic Account Resolution (EAR). Apparently the IRS, which is already cementing its reputation among Congress and the public, wants to make sure that the tax professional community isn’t left out.

For those of you who aren’t tax professionals, let me explain what this is about. In order for me to represent a taxpayer in front of the IRS, I must have a signed Power of Attorney (Form 2848). Once I have a signed POA, I can either enter it in through eServices, or I can mail or fax it to the IRS Centralized Authorization File (CAF) unit. Once in the IRS’s computer system, the IRS knows that I’m representing the taxpayer. If I have a POA, the IRS will discuss and disclose a clients’ information to me. Rightly, the IRS wants the taxpayers to authorize this before I have the ability to see information.

Using eServices to enter a POA has been a great boon for my practice, and I assume anyone who deals with any representation matters. After entering the POA, I can obtain transcripts from the IRS. If a client says he hasn’t filed a (say) 2011 return, I can obtain a Wage & Income transcript and know much of what needs to be on the return. This saves me time, saves the client money, saves the IRS time (I’ve done everything in an automated manner rather than, well, see below), and increases the efficiency of the system.

This shutdown will apparently be effective on August 11th. So beginning on August 12th, I will either have to fax or mail POAs, or I can call the Practitioner Priority Service (PPS). While on the phone with PPS, I can fax over a POA (yes, I have a real fax machine in my office) and the IRS will order transcripts to be faxed back to me. (PPS will also forward the POA to the CAF unit.) However, a transcript ordered through PPS takes up to 72 hours to be received. That means a client in a representation matter will most likely need two appointments before we can make a plan of action. It can take two weeks for a POA sent to the CAF unit to be entered into the system. (Last year there were times when it was taking over a month for the CAF unit to enter information.)

This will increase my costs (which I will pass on to clients). I will have more phone calls to make, and it will take more time to obtain information. While I can do other work while on hold for PPS (hold times have been running about 30 minutes), it usually takes about 15-30 minutes once I am off hold for the IRS to verify the information. I make my income from the time I spend, so I will have to charge a client an extra amount for this time.

This will also increase the costs to the IRS. I wrote my practitioner liaison an email, and noted the additional costs:

  1. There will be many more telephone calls to PPS.  Calls where practitioners must fax documents undoubtedly take longer, so this will increase the need for personnel.
  2. There will be many more faxes to the CAF unit, requiring additional personnel.
  3. The cost for the automated portion cannot be particularly significant.  The products are there already.  In general, the processes are automated, so human intervention is less.
  4. Because it will take longer for many practitioners to obtain information—especially practitioners dealing with collections matters—it will take longer for issues to be resolved.  This will increase the burden on the IRS (both in manpower and in slowing down collections).

I have no idea what the IRS was thinking when they made this decision. This decision is, at best, penny-wise and pound foolish. I guess Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion has been proven again: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This morning, I reported on a decision by the IRS that makes complete sense and will save both the IRS and taxpayers time and money. So a decision by the IRS that would cost taxpayers and the IRS money was, I suppose, inevitable.