Two in Three Taxpayers Reach Live Person on IRS Hotline

Sixty-six percent of taxpayers trying to call the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for help reached someone this tax-filing season, down from 70 percent who received help last year, according to a report released today.

Callers waited an average of 16.3 minutes this season, said the report, released by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The data cover the period through March 3.

The telephone answering rate exceeds the IRS’s 61 percent goal for the year, which was set in response to budget cuts, the inspector general reported.

“I’m pretty proud that while service is down, it hasn’t degraded, you know, to a point where it could have gone, given the cuts,” IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional subcommittee March 27.

Shulman said some people may hang up in the first few minutes when told that the agency’s website can provide answers to some questions. Others receive a busy signal.

The report was released the day before the April 17 deadline for individuals to file their tax returns. A report for the full filing period will come out later this year.

The National Taxpayer Advocate, an independent agency within the IRS, said inadequate funding and the resulting service decline are the most serious issues facing taxpayers. The report, released in January, called the telephone response numbers “deeply disturbing.”

Prisoners’ Returns

The report released today also said the IRS more than doubled the number of tax returns from prisoners that it selected for further scrutiny, to 134,509 from 63,501, as of the first week in March.

The IRS increased the number of tax returns it identified for potential refund fraud by 29 percent.

“The IRS is doing a better job identifying and preventing tax fraud,” said Russell George, the inspector general, who oversees the IRS.

As of April 6, the IRS received 98.9 million tax returns, up 2 percent over the similar period last year, according to the IRS. The agency had issued $224.7 billion in refunds by that date, down 4 percent from last year.

Visits to the IRS website are up 24 percent over last year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Richard Rubin in Washington at rrubin12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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