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 Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It feels a little like being a mouse trying to defend itself against a lion. 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.
To address the issue, the IRS set up a dedicated organization that helps taxpayers with significant problems they’ve been unable to resolve through direct contact with the IRS.
What Is the Taxpayer Advocate Service?
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.
TAS also tackles big issues that affect taxpayers as a whole, which it calls “systemic” or “big picture” issues. It may propose legislative and administrative changes to address those issues.
TAS has at least one office in every state, as well as in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Residents of Pacific U.S. territories like Guam and American Samoa should contact the TAS office in Hawaii.
As of January 2021, TAS offices are closed to in-person visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. TAS is still available to help taxpayers resolve their issues with the IRS, but you'll have to reach out online.
Assistance is restricted to those who have been trying but have been unable to resolve issuess directly with the IRS and are experiencing “economic harm” or “significant cost” as a result. The IRS has indicated that “economic harm” can include situations in which the cost of professional representation is simply beyond your means.
If you’re accepted, TAS assigns an advocate to address your problem, free of charge. The advocate reviews information, researches the situation, and interacts with the IRS on your behalf. This can involve arguing or mediating your case for you and submitting any paperwork or forms that the IRS requires to resolve the problem.
Taxpayers also might receive a bit of advice 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?
Generally speaking, the TAS will take on your case if you're facing an economic burden or a systematic burden, or if it believes that your rights and guarantees of equitable treatment are being jeopardized. You don’t have to be a low-income individual to qualify for TAS assistance—anyone can qualify, including a business or charity.
While the ultimate decision of whether or not to help will be made by someone with TAS, here are some more detailed examples of when the TAS is likely to help:
- Your problem is time-sensitive within the context of financial harm. If you're facing an immediate threat of actions that will have a negative impact on you, you could qualify for TAS assistance.
- The IRS isn't accurately communicating with you about the details of your case. TAS might get involved if you were promised a response to an issue by a certain date, for example, and the IRS failed to respond by then.
- There’s a breakdown in the usual IRS problem-solving methods. Whenever there's a breakdown in the systems or procedures at the IRS, TAS is more likely to take your case.
- Your circumstances are unique. If you have a unique situation that isn't appropriately addressed by current tax law, TAS might get involved to propose legislative or administrative changes to resolve the issue.
The criteria for receiving help from TAS are different from those for receiving help from the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC). LITC assists low-income taxpayers earning no more than 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines amount, while TAS imposes no such restrictions. While representation may be totally free, there might be a small fee for LITC assistance, depending on your income.
TAS Reporting Systemic Issues
The head of TAS presents two reports to Congress every year, including an annual report that outlines at least 10 of the most serious problems for taxpayers. For example, the 2019 report outlined issues with customer service, funding, and a lack of modernization of technology at the IRS.
How Can I Contact TAS?
You have a few options for reaching out to TAS, aside from visiting your local TAS office. You can call its national number, 877-777-4778. You can also mail or fax your completed Form 911. This is the form that officially requests TAS assistance.
Systemic problems should be reported on the Systemic Advocacy Management System (SAMS) on the IRS website.