The Big Hang-up: IRS customer call center service stinks

GAO report says IRS customer service doesn’t work and it’s only going to get worse

If you have ever tried to get tax help from the IRS over the phone and weren’t able to get any – you are not alone.

That’s because the Internal Revenue Service provided the lowest level of telephone service during fiscal year 2015 compared to prior years, with only 38% of callers who wanted to speak with an IRS assistant able to reach one, according to a report this week from the Government Accountability Office. Perhaps worse yet is that the IRS and Department of Treasury have no real plans to improve the situation, the GAO stated.

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“This lower level of service occurred despite lower demand from callers seeking live assistance, which has fallen by 6% since 2010 to about 51 million callers in 2015. Over the same period, average wait times have almost tripled to over 30 minutes,” the GAO stated. “The IRS answered about 50 percent fewer calls from taxpayers seeking an assistor (from about 36.7 million to about 18.2 million) during the same period, while about 73% more calls were abandoned, disconnected by IRS, or met with a busy signal (from about 32.4million to 56.2 million).”

The IRS also struggled to answer correspondence in a timely manner and assistors increasingly either failed to send required correspondence to taxpayers or included inaccurate information in correspondence sent. IRS has taken steps to remind assistors to send correspondence, but does not have adequate controls to ensure that they send accurate correspondence before closing cases, the GAO said.

Now you have to put some of these problems in context. For example, the IRS has lost over $1 billion in budget cuts over the past five years – about 10% overall. The IRS has also reduced staff answering telephones and correspondence by about 9% (from about 12,500 to 11,400 full-time workers between fiscal years 2014 and 2015.)

The cuts and lost customer service come at a time when the agency battles increasing security problems, identity theft issues and scammers.

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“The severe decline in IRS’s customer service in fiscal year 2015 underscores how important it is for IRS to urgently make tough decisions to improve services. In light of IRS’s reduced budget and expanding responsibilities, we have reported for several years that IRS needs to dramatically revise its approach to customer service,” the GAO concluded.

For its part, the IRS noted that its long-term vision for tax administration is to modernize taxpayer service focusing on options to meet taxpayers’ needs and preferences. This would include online tax account access that would enable taxpayers to make adjustments such as correcting errors. Finally, to further identify inefficiencies and improve performance, IRS stated that it would review and improve employee training where appropriate.

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