The IRS has indicated it’s on the way to clearing a massive, pandemic-caused backlog of unprocessed returns, but tax practitioners said they’ve seen no sign of improvement in the agency’s troubled phone service dedicated for their use.
Instead, stories of long delays and unanswered calls to the IRS’ Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) persist, along with the frustration of lawyers, tax accountants, and others who say the phone line is effectively broken.
Tax accountants are one group that relies heavily on the PPS, “and frankly, we believe IRS should take advantage of that system because it will help them leverage their limited resources in assisting taxpayers,” Edward Karl, vice president of tax policy and advocacy for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, told Checkpoint. In theory, he explained, taxpayers who are represented by CPAs can be helped efficiently through the PPS, freeing up IRS personnel to devote more time and resources to unrepresented taxpayers.
“So we believe it makes a lot of sense to get that line working, and it has not been working for a while. And it is deeply concerning,” Karl said.
By August 19, according to an agency update, the IRS had 8.7 million unprocessed individual tax returns it had received so far this year-a combination of returns for 2021 and late-filed returns for previous tax years.
Earlier in August, the AICPA in a letter urged the IRS to improve the PPS, noting that practitioners’ complaints about the phone line increased during the pandemic, compounding slow responses that had plagued the system for years. The letter also applauded the IRS for efforts to clear its backlog of unprocessed returns and taxpayer correspondence, saying the agency’s use of “surge teams” had, overall, helped ease the burden on practitioners and their clients.
Still, the deployment of surge teams, according to the AICPA letter, contributed to reduced levels of service in the PPS, as agency employees were reassigned from the line to help directly with processing the millions of tax returns.
“One of the prices you pay is that the Practitioner Priority Service line, and other taxpayer phone system lines, are at a detriment, so it’s a big problem,” Karl said. “Obviously, we’re an accounting organization and we look at numbers: The IRS hasn’t said what the normal inventory figures are. They haven’t said what they anticipate happening through the second busy season, if you will. The due date for returns on September 15, September 30, and October 15—there’s going to be a lot of returns coming in over that period. What will that do to the backlog?”
“I don’t know what kind of progress they’re making then,” he said. “They’re claiming that they’re progressing, but I don’t know what that means in terms of a target by the end of December to be at healthy inventory levels. And again, they haven’t defined what a healthy inventory level is, for any of those types of returns. I’m actually very curious to see their response.”
Karl pointed to a letter from more than 90 members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, pushing the IRS for details on how it intends to relieve the processing backlog and improve customer service. The lawmakers called for the IRS to continue suspending automated notices and collections, saying those steps have been “critical in reducing pandemic-related tax return and correspondence backlogs.” The bipartisan group is led Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, as well as Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
Karl said he expects the IRS’ response to the lawmakers’ questions “will be very enlightening.”
The PPS “has so much potential to be valuable, and sometimes it is. But more often than not, it’s a source of frustration, because getting through to a person is so time-consuming that it’s more of a burden than it should be,” Rob Kovacev, a member of Miller & Chevalier Chtd., told Checkpoint. Fueled by $80 billion in additional funding over 10 years through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (PL 117-169), the IRS is likely to make improvements to the PPS, Kovacev said.
Herb Harris in January sold the tax and accounting practice in Peabody, Massachusetts, he had owned for 31 years, a decision he said was partly driven by headaches in dealing with the IRS, including the PPS.
“I had been extremely frustrated over the past couple of years with the IRS and the inability to contact anyone there, even by way of their specialized ‘Practitioner Priority Line.’ This hastened my retirement,” Harris wrote in a recent letter to the Boston Globe.
Representatives of the IRS have said the agency wouldn’t comment on the status of the PPS or other backlog-clearing work.
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