IRS Has Answered Only 15.6 Percent of Calls This Tax Filing Season (Updated)

Audit finds increasing problems with customer service and tax fraud

John Koskinen
John Koskinen / AP
March 9, 2016

The IRS has answered only 15.6 percent of customer service calls during the 2016 tax-filing season so far, according to testimony from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

As of Feb. 27, 2016, there were 40.5 million attempted calls on toll-free assistance lines to contact the IRS. Agents answered only 6.3 million calls, or 15.6 percent of the total. After the call was routed to the call center, customers waited on the phone for 9.6 minutes before they were able to speak with an agent.

"For the IRS toll-free lines, there have been long customer wait times, resulting in abandoned calls, and customers redialing," states the inspector general. "Despite other available options most taxpayers continue to use the telephone as the primary method to contact the IRS."

In the 2015 tax-filing season, there were 83.2 million attempts to reach the IRS and 8.3 million were answered, which means that only 10 percent of calls were answered. Customers waited average of 23.5 minutes before reaching an agent after being routed to the call center.

The inspector general also found issues with other forms of taxpayer correspondence.

The audit found that the inventory of unresolved correspondence with taxpayers, or cases where the IRS failed to respond to the taxpayer within 45 days had grown from 40 percent in fiscal year 2012 to 49 percent in fiscal year 2015.

The IRS forecasts that the number of taxpayers who will be assisted by Taxpayer Assistance Centers, locations where taxpayers can receive face-to-face assistance, will decline from 5.6 million taxpayers in fiscal year 2015 to 5.2 million taxpayers in fiscal year 2016—a decline of 7 percent.

Identify theft continues to be an issue, as the report found that the IRS took an average of 278 days to resolve tax accounts affected by fraud and the agency did not correctly resolve 17 percent of them.

"We reported that taxpayers were still experiencing long delays in resolving their tax accounts and that the IRS continues to make errors on the victims’ tax accounts," the inspector general stated. "The impact of identify theft on tax administration is significantly greater than the amount the IRS detects and prevents."

The agency is seeking more funding and is requesting appropriated resources of $12.3 billion for fiscal year 2017—an increase of slightly more than $1 billion from the previous fiscal year.

According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, the additional funding will go to improve customer service.

"The IRS will work both to improve taxpayer service delivered through traditional channels and continue modernizing the services we offer in order to help transform the taxpayer experience," he said in testimony before the Senate on Tuesday. "Taken together, these improvements will ultimately allow taxpayers to resolve more issues online, leaving our employees more time to support the transactions that are best completed by phone or in person."

Update Friday, March 11, 7:00 P.M.: According to a spokesperson from the IRS, there were 8.8 million callers looking for live assistance, and of that number, 6.4 million reached a human assistant on the telephone. The IRS says this results in a level of service of 72.8 percent. When asked what was the source for the number of those looking for live assistance, the spokesman responded that the IRS was the source.

There were 40.5 million calls to the IRS’s customer assistance lines. "About 15 million of these calls come in after hours when assistors were not available," the spokesperson said. "About 5 million of these callers, nevertheless, receive assistance through an automated system that has self-directed interactive messages that addresses many common questions. For those who call in during business hours, about 9.7 million receive assistance through the automated message system."

"The IRS has taken great strides to improve telephone service this filing season," the spokesman said. "Our level of service for the current tax season is above 70 percent for this filing season - meaning that seven out of 10 taxpayers seeking a live telephone assistor actually reach one. While this is still not as ideal as we would like it to be, this is a vast improvement over a year ago when the level of service was routinely under 50 percent during filing season and about 38 percent for Fiscal Year 2016."

Published under: IRS , Taxes