On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a policy shift that will bring an end to the decades-old practice of making unannounced home and business visits to enquire about taxpayers’ debts and income.
The controversial practice was eliminated as part of a broader overhaul of the agency that is aimed at helping keep its workers safe and to combat scammers who pose as IRS agents.
IRS Ends Unannounced Visits To Taxpayers’ Homes And Businesses
The Treasury Department said in a statement, “effective immediately”, IRS agents will no longer make unplanned visits to the homes and businesses of taxpayers “except in a few unique circumstances”. Instead, if the agency has any questions about unpaid taxes or unfiled tax returns, it will mail letters or send an email to individuals asking them to schedule an appointment.
IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel told reporters that the announcement was the “right thing to do, at the right time”. He added that by ending the practice of sending revenue officers to visit homes and firms to resolve taxpayer liabilities, the agency was closing the curtains on a different era.
In the scenario that the agents aren’t able to reach a taxpayer via email, the officers will take the necessary steps to meet the individual in person. The exceptions in the case include serving subpoenas and summonses in person, and sensitive enforcement activity involving asset seizure. The asset type would be those that are considered beyond the government’s reach.
According to Werfel, under the old rules, revenue officers made “tens of thousands” of unannounced visits per year, and the medium tax debt amount the agents were seeking was $110,000.
Continuing his statements, the IRS chief said that changing the “long-standing procedure” will help increase confidence in the agency’s tax administration work and improve the overall safety of taxpayers and IRS employees.
Policy Change Is Due To Growing Concerns Over The Safety Of IRS Agents
Concerns were raised about agent safety after IRS employees were faced with more threats, that were tied in part to speculation that the agents were targeting middle-income taxpayers more aggressively after the Biden administration passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which provided $80 billion in funding to the IRS to ramp up its tax collection efforts.
In response, last August, the IRS conducted a comprehensive safety review at its premises. And in May, the revenue department announced it will start to limit the sharing of employees’ personally identifying information when communicating with taxpayers.
A report published by the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration read that the federal bureau was concerned that taxpayers and “anti-government” or “anti-tax groups” with wrong intent could identify and track down IRS employees or their families via the internet and social media and use their personal information to “threaten, intimidate, or locate them for physical violence”.
The policy shift also comes in light of the increasing rate of imposter scams where bad actors claiming to be IRS officials visit the home of taxpayers unannounced and collect valuable information that is later used against them for ransom. According to data from the Federal Trade Commission, over 50,000 such scams were reported in the first quarter of this year.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS workers, said it supports the revenue department’s policy change. Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement that officers representing the workers union will “continue to efficiently and effectively” carry out their duty and help taxpayers meet their legal tax obligations through other means of communication.
Republican Lawmakers Accuse The IRS Of Weponizing Against The American People
The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year saw an influx of funding to the IRS that helped expand their oversight over taxpayers. This led to an increase in wealthier taxpayers filing more returns and the agency itself becoming more accessible to U.S. residents.
Republican lawmakers raised concerns about IRS taking drastic measures against taxpayers while also strengthening its criminal investigation division. Officers part of the IRS criminal investigation unit are the only agents permitted to carry firearms as part of their jobs.
In March, Ohio House Republican Jim Jordan sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Werfel and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking why revenue agents visited the house of journalist Matt Taibbi shortly after he testified in Capitol Hill about his investigation into the infamous ‘Twitter Files’.
Reacting to the claims, Werfel said the IRS has no intentions to increase the workforce in the criminal investigation division and the issue of unannounced visits raised by the U.S. Congress “will be mitigated” with the change in policy. He also added that the only set of people who stand to lose with the decision are scammers posing as the IRS.
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