Everyone was warned that getting through to a customer service representative at the Internal Revenue Service this year would be a challenge in light of the much-publicized budget cuts the agency has endured.
But the drop-off in customer service was much worse than anticipated.
According to the latest report from the National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA), the IRS answered only 37 percent of taxpayer calls routed to customer service representatives overall, and the hold time for taxpayers who got through averaged 23 minutes.
“This level of service represents a sharp drop-off from the 2014 filing season, when the IRS answered 71 percent of its calls and hold times averaged about 14 minutes, according to a news released from the NTA, an office created to help taxpayers facing IRS issues.
“For the segment of taxpayers who required help from the IRS , the filing season was by far the worst in memory,” Nina Olson, who heads the NTA and is mandated by law to report to Congress in a mid-year report.
For identity theft victims, it was even tougher to get through to the IRS.
The IRS answered only 17 percent of calls from taxpayers who called after being notified that their tax returns had been blocked by the Taxpayer Protection Program (TPP) on suspicion of identity theft, Olson’s report said. And the hold times averaged about 28 minutes.
“In three consecutive weeks during the filing season, the IRS answered fewer than 10 percent of these calls,” the NTA said.
And then there are technical or communication issues beyond the control of the IRS and the taxpayer which abruptly ends calls in mid-conversation or while a taxpayer is put on hold. The number of “courtesy disconnects” received by taxpayers calling the IRS skyrocketed from about 544,000 in 2014 to about 8.8 million this filing season, an
increase of more than 1,500 percent. The term “courtesy disconnect” refers to the act of the IRS essentially hanging up on a taxpayer because its switchboard is overloaded and cannot handle additional calls.
The report attributes the sharp decline in taxpayer service levels to the reduction in IRS funding and “reiterates the Advocate’s longstanding view that the IRS requires additional funding to meet taxpayer service needs.”
However, Olson wrote, “temporary periods of limited funding can have the salutary effect of causing an organization to rethink its mission and allocate its resources more effectively.”