Millions of taxpayer phone calls went unanswered by IRS this tax season

By Sally P. Schreiber, J.D.

The number of taxpayer phone calls answered by the IRS dropped significantly during this tax season and call wait times were up, according to an interim report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) on Thursday (TIGTA Rep’t No. 2015-40-032). TIGTA found that the IRS’s level of service (defined as the number of calls in the IRS’s toll-free assistance queue that are answered) dropped to 38.5%, compared with 74.7% last tax season.

The number of taxpayers helped by the IRS’s toll-free assistance lines has declined sharply in the past few years, according to TIGTA. In 2012, the IRS answered 8.25 million taxpayers’ calls. This year, only 4.21 million calls were answered—little more than half has many as in 2012.

Furthermore, because “level of service” only measures the percentage of calls in the queue that are answered, it does not actually reflect how successful taxpayers are in getting through to IRS help. In the past, TIGTA has warned that the IRS “can manage the Level of Service by increasing or decreasing the number of calls it allows in to the assistor queue” (TIGTA Rep’t No. 2014-40-029, p.15 (3/28/14)).

While the IRS answered 4.21 million calls (through March 7), TIGTA reports that 45.6 million taxpayers called the IRS’s toll-free assistance lines, so it appears that less than 10% of calls to the IRS during tax season were actually answered.

TIGTA also found that the average wait time for taxpayer assistance calls to be answered was 24.6 minutes (although this only counts the wait times for the limited number of taxpayers who actually got through). In 2014, the average wait time was 11.7 minutes.

The report contained no recommendations since TIGTA will be issuing a final report on the filing season in September.

Sally P. Schreiber ( sschreiber@aicpa.org ) is a JofA senior editor.

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