IRS Takes Steps To Address Phone Access Issues For Tax Practitioners

At the most recent meeting of the American Bar Association’s Tax Section, the IRS noted that it was looking into solutions for preventing line-blocking technology from tying up IRS phone lines.

The pilot program is going to use artificial intelligence technology to attempt to weed out calls made by these services. The initial roll out will be on lines used by tax practitioners.

The Practitioner Priority Line (or PPL) is used by a taxpayer’s authorized representative to resolve taxpayer issues with the IRS. Unfortunately, this line, which one would expect to be staffed by highly trained, highly empowered individuals suffers from the same problems currently plaguing most of the other IRS phone lines, including often going unanswered “due to high call volume.”

Tax practitioners and their industry associations have been vocal about the IRS’ need to address the phone problems.

In a recent letter to the IRS’ Director of Customer Account Services the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) once again requested specific remedies for improving service on the PPL including asking that the IRS “Investigate certain systemic call answering issues. The PPS [sic] line is open between 7:00am and 7:00pm in each time zone. Tax practitioners in the Mountain and Pacific time zones are expressing concerns about PPS line access particularly regarding the 7:00am opening time.”

The issue is that even if a practitioner calls the PPL at 6:45, 6:55, and 7:00 a.m. mountain time they often receive a “courtesy disconnect” and cannot even get placed into the hold queue. It can take several attempts to be put into the hold queue and wait times can still be up to or over an hour. Many in the industry have long suspected that commercial “line jumping” technologies are a large part of the problem. The IRS agrees and is looking at ways to mitigate (or eliminate) the problem.

Always of concern is private industry’s ability to respond to IRS mitigation measures. Ed Zollars, a CPA practicing in Arizona and an author and instructor for Kaplan Financial Education, notes that “The next steps will be key—will EnQ [one of the main providers of line jumping services] build a workaround and, if they do, does the IRS have another ‘are you a robot’ test to bring out right away?”

Zollars also reminds us that right now the IRS is only testing this on a few lines (specifically the PPL). He wonders if the IRS is waiting to see EnQ (and others’) response before implementing the strategy on all potentially affected lines. In other words, the IRS may be starting small to ensure that they have truly solved the problem and can answer any potential responses to the problem before implementing the solution on all phone service lines.

In the meantime, EnQ has noted on its home page that it is “temporarily suspending services to: Practitioner Priority Service Business, Correspondence Examination Individual/Business, and Automated Underreporter due to changes on the IRS call center.” It recommends their paid subscribers “direct [their] calls to other departments while we work on a solution.” Zollars warns that until the IRS has a chance to fully test their solution and implement any additional mitigation tactics they anticipated might be needed “we could be in for a few days of ‘whack-a-mole’ for this situation.”

Nevertheless, the first step in finding a solution is admitting there is a problem and the IRS has at this point acknowledged the problem created by line jumping technology for the Service, tax practitioners, and taxpayers and is moving towards finding a solution. A solution that, if it works, will be a game changer for taxpayers and their representatives.

Further Reading:

The IRS Bottleneck Most Taxpayers Have Never Heard Of

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