About a year into the full launch of IRS chat and voice bots designed to answer taxpayer questions and encourage voluntary compliance, an IRS official says the project has helped sure up phone lines and assist in collections.
Darren Guillot, deputy commissioner of collection and operations support in the IRS’ Small Business/Self Employed Division, said May 5 at the American Bar Association’s May Tax Meeting in Washington, D.C., that as of late April, that bots have answered 11 million phone calls and have set up over 13,000 payment plans worth $84 million in taxes. This includes calls handled by both unauthenticated and authenticated bots.
Unauthenticated bots were rolled out first early 2022 and can answer general inquiries while authenticated bots provide taxpayers information about their account after successful identity verification. According to Guillot, the chat bots “reduce the demand on the live chat assistance by 70%.” The voice bots retain “somewhere between 30 and 40%,” which Guillot says is “consistent with the private sector. At current, the default rate on installment plans set up by bots is about 10-13%. So far, bots can only set up individual plans for those who owe $25,000 or less, but Guillot said that 90% of taxpayers who have an outstanding balance with the IRS owe under that threshold.
As for what’s next, Guillot said next year the bots will move to a cloud-based system, meaning taxpayers will have the choice between a voice or chat bot, as well as a live person.
“The real beauty of this project is that we’ve shown that we can safely and securely authenticate taxpayers and help them resolve their own tax issues without any enforcement,” said Guillot. “Anything that the IRS does that’s predictable or readable, we can train bots do this and that will free us up to do even more for the American public … giving us greater bandwidth to help people.”
Guillot said that IRS Collections will “keep expanding” these so-called proactive resolution tools in the interest of allowing taxpayers to reach debt resolution “without having to interact with us.”
He stressed that IRS enforcement begins first with a notice before anyone comes knocking on the door. Guillot recognized that because some notices were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be a large communication gap since many taxpayers last received a notice. “How many people forget they got an IRS notice? I would say a lot. So we’re mindful of that and we’ve asked our revenue officers to be particularly keen to taxpayers being skeptical about their identity … to be very generous and patient and flexible in their approaches …”
Per the IRS’ presentation for the event, the Collection Division is set to boost hiring beginning with fiscal year 2023. Right now, between Field Collection; Specialty Collection Offer in Compromise; Insolvency; and Campus Collection staff, there are about 7,500 employees with about 3,500 more on the way. Guillot closed with saying that the division is “going to be working more closely on how we can better communicate why we go out in the field,” such as with potential advance appointment letters instead of unannounced visits.
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