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IRS struggles to assist taxpayers: Two-thirds of calls go unanswered

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  • Only about 31% of taxpayers managed to connect with a live IRS representative during the latest tax season.
  • Increased funding has enabled the IRS to reduce call wait times and expand digital and in-person services.
  • Despite improvements, the IRS still faces significant challenges, including inefficiencies and potential budget cuts.

Millions of taxpayers reach out to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) every year, seeking help with their tax-related queries. However, the reality of getting through to a live representative is often a frustrating experience. According to recent data, only about 31% of taxpayers managed to connect with a live person during the latest tax season, leaving two-thirds of callers without the assistance they needed.

Erin Collins, the head of the IRS's Taxpayer Advocate Service, highlighted the agency's significant improvement from a mere 4% service rating during the pandemic to an 88% rating this year. Despite this progress, Collins emphasized that the current situation is far from ideal and does not warrant celebration.

The IRS's Efforts to Improve

The IRS has made several strides to enhance its customer service capabilities, largely thanks to increased funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. This funding has enabled the IRS to hire over 5,000 new employees, significantly reducing call wait times from an average of 28 minutes in 2022 to just over three minutes in the latest filing season. Additionally, the IRS has expanded its Customer Callback capabilities, allowing taxpayers to hang up and receive a call back if the wait time exceeds 15 minutes, saving taxpayers over 1.5 million hours of hold time.

Digital and In-Person Services

In addition to phone services, the IRS has invested heavily in digital tools to make the tax filing process more accessible and user-friendly. The "Where's My Refund?" tool, for instance, has been updated to provide more detailed and clear status messages, resulting in a 30% increase in usage. The IRS has also seen a 41% increase in overall web service usage, indicating that taxpayers are increasingly turning to online resources for assistance.

For those who prefer in-person help, the IRS has opened more Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) and extended their hours. These centers offer a range of services, from answering tax-related questions to helping resolve tax issues.

Persistent Challenges

Despite these improvements, the IRS still faces significant challenges. The National Taxpayer Advocate's report revealed that IRS telephone assistors spent approximately 1.27 million hours waiting for calls to come through during the 2023 filing season, which accounted for 34% of their assigned call-handling time. This inefficiency is partly due to outdated technology that hinders employees from efficiently transitioning between answering calls and processing tax returns.

Moreover, the IRS's efforts to modernize and enhance its services are under threat from potential budget cuts. The recent clawback of $20 billion by Republicans could undermine the progress made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act, which aimed to modernize the IRS's technology and enhance its audit capabilities.

The IRS has made commendable efforts to improve its customer service, but significant challenges remain. With millions of taxpayers relying on the agency for assistance, it is crucial for the IRS to continue its modernization efforts and address the inefficiencies that hinder its ability to serve the public effectively.

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