What Does the Taxpayer Advocate Service Do?
The Taxpayer Advocate Service is there when all else fails
Nobody wants to have a problem with the IRS. It feels a little like a mouse trying to defend itself against a lion, and getting a real, live agent on the phone to discuss your problem can be a long and sometimes fruitless process. Even if you hire someone to prepare your taxes, you can still run into trouble.
So the IRS set up a dedicated organization to help taxpayers who have significant problems they’ve been unable to resolve through direct contact with the IRS. The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent part of the IRS. It was formed to help individuals and businesses alike when they’ve been getting nowhere through normal routes of contact.
What is the Taxpayer Advocate Service?
TAS was created by Congress with the express purpose of protecting taxpayers’ rights, and to address “recurring, unresolved problems and difficulties taxpayers encounter in dealing with the IRS,” according to TAS. TAS has at least one office in every state, and in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
Assistance is restricted to those who have been trying but have been unable to resolve things directly with the IRS, and are experiencing “economic harm” or “significant cost” as a result. The IRS has indicated that “economic harm” can include that the cost of professional representation is simply beyond your means.
TAS also tackles big issues that affect taxpayers as a whole, which it calls “systemic” or “big picture” issues. More on this below.
For example: The IRS website talks about a case in which a taxpayer who was living overseas was unable to cash his IRS refund check, due to foreign banking policies. He asked the IRS to instead direct-deposit funds, to no avail. So he reached out to his Congressman, who contacted TAS on his behalf. His case advocate was able to initiate a wire transfer, and the taxpayer had his money within 24 hours.
If you’re accepted, TAS assigns an advocate to address your problem, free of charge. The advocate reviews information and researches the situation, then deals with the IRS on your behalf. This can involve arguing or mediating your case for you and submitting any paperwork or forms that are required by the IRS to resolve the problem.
Taxpayers might receive a bit of advice as well regarding how to avoid certain future problems. All information you provide to your advocate is protected by confidentiality rules.
Who Qualifies for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance?
According to TAS, you may be eligible if you’ve run into snags with IRS procedure or if your IRS problem is causing you financial problems. You don’t have to be low-income to qualify for TAS assistance—anyone can qualify, including a business or charity.
The service tends to accept cases where there is more than one tax-related issue at play. Here are some of the criteria TAS says may qualify you for help:
- Your problem is time-sensitive within the context of financial harm. According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service, a case may be accepted if “a taxpayer is experiencing some financial difficulty, emergency, or hardship, and the IRS needs to move much faster than it usually does (or even can) under its normal procedures.”
- Multiple IRS units seem to have communication problems between them about your case. TAS will step in to get everyone working together.
- There’s a breakdown in the usual IRS problem-solving methods. This could be lost paperwork, or because an agent has changed jobs and is no longer available to answer questions or provide input.
- Your circumstances are unique. For example, the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) says, “X must now happen,” but the IRC makes no provision for your personal extenuating circumstances and nobody within the agency seems to be considering whether it should.
- A politician gets involved. TAS might also take on cases that don’t meet any of these criteria if a Congress member recommends that it should do so.
What’s the difference between the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) and TAS? LITC provides assistance specifically to low-income taxpayers earning no more than 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, while TAS imposes no such restrictions. The amount in dispute with the IRS typically cannot be more than $50,000 to qualify for LITC assistance, and there might be a small fee for LITC assistance, depending on your income.
Taxpayers Reporting Systemic Issues
You can also wave a red flag at TAS if you believe an existing tax provision isn’t working the way it should and is therefore causing problems for numerous taxpayers, not just yourself. You even have the right to suggest how such a systemic problem can be fixed, although there’s no guarantee that TAS will take your advice to heart. But if it does, your feedback could help the organization make recommendations to Congress.
Every year, the leader of the TAS presents an Annual Report to Congress that outlines at least 20 of the most serious problems for taxpayers. For example, the 2018 report included systemic problems such as lack of taxpayer access to information, high false-positive fraud detection rates, and poor utilization of free filing options.
Who Can’t Get TAS Help?
According to the TAS site, TAS is less likely to accept problems with “processing of original tax returns, amended returns, rejected and unpostable returns, and injured (but not innocent) spouse claims,” as these tend to be straightforward situations where the IRS’s judgment was correct.
As for that lost paperwork and those uncommunicative IRS departments, TAS says that you should have been trying to remedy these problems on your own for a period of at least 30 days.
An exception to the 30-day rule exists if the IRS is threatening to take some adverse action against you immediately.
How Can I Contact TAS?
You have a few options for reaching out to TAS. You can call its national number, 1-877-777-4778, or you can visit a local TAS office. TAS publishes a map on its website with contact information for all its offices in each state. You can also do things the good, old-fashioned way and use the postal service to snail-mail Form 911, the Request for Taxpayer Advocate Assistance to your local TAS office. The TAS map includes fax numbers as well.
Systemic problems should be reported on the Systemic Advocacy Management System (SAMS) on the IRS website.
Taxpayer Advocate Service. "Our History," Accessed October 21, 2019.
Internal Revenue Service. "Part 13, Taxpayer Advocate Service." Accessed Oct. 18, 2019.
Taxpayer Advocate Service. "Success Story: TAS's Advocacy Helps Taxpayer Get Refund Using Wire Deposit to a Foreign Bank Account," Accessed Oct. 21, 2019.
Taxpayer Advocate Service. "Who May Use the Taxpayer Advocate Service," Accessed Date Oct. 18, 2019.
Taxpayer Advocate Service. "Taxpayer Advocate Service Clarifies Case Acceptance Criteria," Accessed October 18, 2019.
Taxpayer Advocate Service. "Learn More About Eligibility," Accessed October 21, 2019.
Taxpayer Advocate Service, "Reports to Congress," Accessed October 21, 2019.
Taxpayer Advocate Service. "Taxpayer Advocate Service Clarifies Case Acceptance Criteria," Accessed October 21, 2019.
Taxpayer Advocate Service. "Who We Are," Accessed October 21, 2019.