ST. LOUIS – With tax season peeping around the corner, St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green invited the public to learn about the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) at a seminar held Dec. 4 at the 1520 Market St. building.
TAS, an independent organization within the IRS, offers free services that can help taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS, ensure taxpayers know their rights, ensure taxpayers are treated fairly and protect their rights.
Tax Advocate Danielle Douglass, facilitator of the seminar, asked attendees if they had heard of TAS. The sole person who had was rewarded with a stress ball.
“Most of the time when I go out and talk, everyone knows who the IRS is but no one has ever heard of TAS,” Douglass said. “So it is kind of a new phenomenon to many people even though it’s been around for a while.”
Douglass explained that several years ago, allegations were made that IRS employees were treating taxpayers unfairly. As a result, congressional hearings were held; and one of the conclusions from these hearings was the establishment of a TAS office to ensure IRS behavior is appropriate and does not violate people’s rights.
“Another item that grew out of the hearings was a big issue surrounding collections – people getting levied and having property seized,” Douglass explained. “So Congress decided the IRS needed to make sure people received proper notification before their assets were levied or seized. That was a big thing that came out of this. We call it RRA 98, the Revenue Reconciliation Act of 1998.
“As a result of that Act, a lot of things came into place to try to get the IRS on the right track so people could get proper notification.”
Douglass used the home health care business as an example of how incorrect filing by employers can cause the IRS to place a levy on their clients’ income.
Attendee Wanie Webb said she enjoyed learning about problematic home health care filing issues.
“That was very important; a lot of people don’t understand,” Webb said. “People running these places don’t understand tax laws. To me, personally, they don’t have good accountants. When it comes to the IRS, you should have accurate information.”
Douglass pointed out that TAS has access to everything the IRS has, including their systems.
“Although we are under the IRS umbrella, so that there is no thumb being held on us, we don’t have that same reporting to the Commissioner of the IRS,” she explained. “We are led by a National Taxpayer Advocate appointed by the Secretary of the Treasurer who reports directly to Congress.”
The national advocate is required by law to have a tax advocate in each state so individuals can have someone to contact about their tax situation, Douglass said. TAS also has a Bill of Rights for taxpayers.
“Most people don’t know about these rights,” Douglass noted.
According to the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, taxpayers have the right to challenge the IRS’s position and be heard. Some other rights include the right to appeal an IRS decision in an independent forum, the right to be informed and the right to quality service.
“What I am trying to do is come out monthly and not just educate people about TAS but also about taxpayer information in general,” Douglass said. “TAS is here to help the taxpayer resolve issues, but the taxpayer should first try and work with the IRS before jumping to the front of the line for TAS help.”
Douglass noted that taxpayers had the right to receive assistance from TAS if they were experiencing financial difficulties or if the IRS had not resolved their tax issue correctly and in a timely way through normal channels.
Douglass acknowledged that some people who filed returns last winter and spring had not yet received entitled refunds.
“This is a real issue, and our office is working really hard to get these people their refunds,” she said. “Over the last several months, my team and I have talked about filing statuses, collection issues and what kind of things can get taxpayers caught up in audit situations.”
The IRS is required to include TAS contact information when sending out notices to taxpayers. Learn more at taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/taxpayer-rights