(Washington, DC) The IRS Oversight Board released its 2009 Taxpayer Attitude Survey today. The survey showed a reduction from 2008 levels in the importance and likelihood to use tax assistance services. There was an eight point drop, from 78 to 70 percent, among those who felt a toll-free telephone number to answer questions is “very important.” The Board has indicated concern over recent reduced toll-free phone service levels as the demand for service continues to grow as taxpayers seek answers about new and extended tax credits, while the IRS’ resources to meet those needs have remained constant due to funding restraints.
There was a similar drop in taxpayers attitude from 2008 levels about one-on-one assistance, including offices where taxpayers can meet with an IRS representative, as well as a five point drop in the number of taxpayers surveyed who said it would be likely for them to visit a web site that would provide them with information. The Board speculates that toll-free telephone service has such an important role in affecting taxpayers' attitudes about IRS service that a decline in telephone service may influence taxpayers’ attitudes toward other IRS service channels, such as visiting a Taxpayer Assistance Center or using its web site.
The importance of service to taxpayers is indicated by another survey question. Only 10 percent of those surveyed believed that “The IRS devotes too much of its resources to customer service programs and not enough to its enforcement activities.” Almost half (47 percent) believe the IRS maintains a proper balance between service and enforcement.
Meanwhile, a vast majority of taxpayers will likely applaud a major change by the IRS last month to regulate tax preparers, an issue the Board has followed closely.
For the past two years, the Board’s surveys showed an overwhelming support for requirements that tax preparers meet competency and ethical standards in order to enter the business. In the 2009 survey, 78 percent of those surveyed indicate that it is “very important” that return preparers meet standards of “ethical behavior,” while 73 percent believe it is very important that tax preparers meet competency standards.
“Requiring tax preparers to register and verify their competency may be one of the most important steps the IRS has made in the tax system in our lifetimes,” said Chairman Cherecwich. “A tax return prepared improperly or fraudulently can have negative ramifications for years for an unsuspecting taxpayer -- and it’s clear from the Board’s survey that Americans know that. The Board is very pleased with the IRS decision to move forward in regulating tax preparers.”
The survey also indicates the fear of being audited has more influence with taxpayers than ever before in the history of the Board’s survey, which began in 2002. When asked which factors influence taxpayers on reporting and paying their taxes honestly, 39 and 24 percent surveyed said that fear of an audit has a “great deal of influence” or “somewhat of an influence,” respectively. This change in public attitudes is consistent with a greater IRS enforcement presence in recent years.
The survey also identified some softening of taxpayers’ views on cheating. The survey showed a modest increase in the past year, from six to nine percent, of those asked if they feel it is acceptable to cheat on their taxes “a little here and there.” Four percent find it acceptable to cheat “as much as possible,” a one percent increase from the previous year. In addition, there was as drop in the percentage of those who feel it is “not at all acceptable” to cheat.
The complete survey is available at www.irsoversightboard.treas.gov.