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Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration

Press Release

October 6, 2009
Contact: Li-Yun Chien
(202) 622-6500

TIGTA Finds Increased Waiting Times For IRS Toll-Free Assistance

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) today publicly released its review of taxpayer access to the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) customer service toll-free telephone assistance lines during the 2009 filing season.

The IRS maintains toll-free telephone numbers for taxpayers seeking help in understanding tax laws and their tax compliance obligations. TIGTA's audit found significant increases in the length of time taxpayers waited to be connected to an IRS representative and in the number of disconnected calls.

The IRS experienced increased taxpayer call demand during the 2009 filing season (mid-January through mid-April) because of questions regarding adjusted gross income, economic stimulus payments, recovery rebate credits and the tax relief provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The IRS began requiring taxpayers to provide their prior-year adjusted gross income for authentication when e-filing their returns. This resulted in 4.8 million calls to the IRS from taxpayers requesting the amount of their prior-year adjusted gross income.

The recovery rebate credit is available to eligible taxpayers who did not receive an economic stimulus payment in 2008 or who are entitled to an additional payment. In order to determine eligibility for an additional payment in 2009, taxpayers needed to know the amount of the economic stimulus payment they received in 2008. As a result, taxpayers called the IRS customer service lines because they did not retain documentation or did not remember the amount of their 2008 economic stimulus payment.

"The number of unanswered calls due to taxpayer hang-ups, courtesy disconnects or busy signals increased to 22.4 million in 2009 compared to 13.8 million in 2008," commented J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. "The number of unanswered calls has increased annually since 2006," added Inspector General George. A courtesy disconnect happens when, as a result of high call volumes, a recorded message asks callers to call back when call volumes are lower.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS take total taxpayer demand and the overall taxpayer experience into account when measuring the success of its toll-free telephone assistance program. The IRS said it would review how it measures the toll-free program's success.

To view the report, including scope, methodology, and full IRS response, go to: https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2009reports/200940127fr.pdf.


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