Understanding the Federal Taxpayer Advocate Service and Taxpayer Bill of Rights

For many people, contacting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to resolve tax issues can seem daunting. This may be especially true when contacting the IRS about an audit or because of unpaid taxes. 

Between the intimidating looking notices, confusing phone calls with IRS staff, as well as the technical morass of issues lurking within the tax process, it can be hard to know how to effectively resolve an issue.

Fortunately, taxpayers are not alone when it comes to dealing with the IRS. The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR) were created to protect and assist taxpayers when dealing with the IRS. This post outlines the TAS, describes how it interacts with the TBOR, and explains how both can help individuals and businesses understand and resolve their tax obligations more effectively.

Taxpayer Advocate Service

The TAS operates independently within the IRS to inform taxpayers of their rights and to ensure that taxpayers are treated fairly. It provides free assistance to taxpayers facing financial hardship or those who believe an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should. The independence of the TAS and its orientation within the IRS allows the TAS to quickly review cases on behalf of taxpayers on the IRS’s systems and to internally contact members of the IRS to resolve issues that might normally take much longer to resolve.

The TAS has existed since 1979. Since then, it has been an independent advocate for taxpayers within the IRS. Over the ensuing decades since its formation, the TAS has gone through several changes that have given it more authority to assist taxpayers. Today, the TAS can issue orders on behalf of taxpayers directly to the IRS to address and correct issues across the various stages within the IRS.

The TAS assists taxpayers with a variety of tax issues, including assisting taxpayers facing financial hardship, addressing IRS system issues that delay or cause an issue to go unresolved and advocating for taxpayers who encounter unfair or inequitable treatment based on how the IRS administers their case.

As part of its mission as an independent taxpayer advocate, the TAS provides free assistance for the following common issues:

  • Paying Taxes - Assistance with issues related to paying taxes, including payment plans and resolving tax debts;
  • Tax-related Errors and Amendments - Help with correcting tax-related errors and filing amendments;
  • Filing Returns - Assistance with filing tax returns or addressing issues related to not filing;
  • Interacting with the IRS - Guidance on interactions with the IRS, including audits and other communications;
  • Small Business Issues - Support for small business owners with healthcare and employment taxes;
  • Refunds - Help with issues related to tax refunds, including status inquiries and resolving problems with stolen or withheld refunds;
  • Tax Credits - Assistance with claiming tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and credits for education, home and healthcare; and
  • International Tax Issues - Support for taxpayers living or banking abroad, addressing international tax issues

This list is by no means exhaustive.  The TAS is always expanding its services as part of its overall advocate mandate and the ever-changing taxation environment.

Taxpayers can request assistance by completing Form 911 and submitting it to their local TAS office.  The request for assistance will be reviewed and a case file opened if the request falls within its authority to intervene. The TAS strives to respond within two weeks to all requests for assistance.

Taxpayer Bill of Rights

The TBOR is a set of 10 fundamental rights designed to ensure taxpayers are treated fairly, are properly informed of their rights, and can understand their tax obligations. It was drafted to address several key issues that existed at that time and to improve the relationship between taxpayers and the IRS.

The first version of the TBOR was passed in 1988 and established the early version of the TAS. It gave TAS the statutory authority to issue Taxpayer Assistance Orders (TAO) to the IRS when taxpayers were suffering, or were about to suffer significant hardships because of how the IRS operated.  A TAO requires the IRS take specific actions and to respond within a set timeframe to effectively administer a taxpayer’s case.

In 1998, the TBOR was revised to create local TAS offices in each state.  These local offices were intended to provide better access for taxpayers and to expand existing TAS services. By 2014, the IRS formally adopted the current TBOR as proposed by the National Taxpayer Advocate’s office. The current TBOR groups the dozens of existing taxpayer rights found in the Tax Code into 10 fundamental rights and makes these rights clear, understandable and accessible for taxpayers and IRS employees.

The following are the 10 rights outlined in the TBOR:

  1. The Right to Be Informed: Taxpayers have the right to know what they need to do to comply with tax laws. This includes clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices, and correspondence.
  2. The Right to Quality Service: Taxpayers have the right to receive prompt, courteous and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS.
  3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax: Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties, and to have the IRS apply all tax payments properly.
  4. The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard: Taxpayers have the right to raise objections and provide additional documentation in response to formal IRS actions or proposed actions.
  5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum: Taxpayers are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most IRS decisions, including many penalties, and have the right to take their cases to court.
  6. The Right to Finality: Taxpayers have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to challenge the IRS’s position and the maximum amount of time the IRS has to audit a particular tax year or collect a tax debt.
  7. The Right to Privacy:
  8. The Right to Confidentiality: Taxpayers have the right to expect that any information they provide to the IRS will not be disclosed unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law.
  9. The Right to Retain Representation: Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealing with the IRS.
  10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System: Taxpayers have the right to expect the tax system to consider facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay or ability to provide information timely.

The TBOR was created to enhance transparency, improve service quality, protect taxpayer rights, and address issues related to inconsistent treatment and complex processes.  It aims to ensure that taxpayers are fully aware of their rights and have the necessary tools to manage their interactions with the IRS effectively.

Understanding these rights and the role of the TAS can empower taxpayers to handle their tax issues more effectively and ensure they receive fair treatment from the IRS. For more detailed information, taxpayers can refer to IRS Publication 1, “Your Rights as a Taxpayer.”

By being better informed about the TAS and the TBOR, taxpayers can better navigate the complexities of the tax system and be better positioned to obtain help when its needed.

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