Heeding a call to action by National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) Nina E. Olson, the IRS has unveiled a new "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" that can serve as a blueprint for future dealings with the nation's tax collection agency (IR-2014-72, 6/10/14).
Although the document itself isn't legally enforceable, the IRS says taxpayers can rely on it with confidence. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights—officially labeled Publication 1, "Your Rights as a Taxpayer"—incorporates various provisions already included in the tax code and updates previous efforts to identify and specify taxpayer rights.
"Respecting taxpayer rights continues to be a top priority for IRS employees, and the new Taxpayer Bill of Rights summarizes these important protections in a clearer, more understandable format than ever before," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a prepared statement.
In the past, NTA Olson has urged the IRS to adopt a Taxpayer Bill of Rights and reiterated the need for a new measure in her annual report to Congress earlier this year. The IRS developed the revised Pub. 1 after conducting extensive talks with Olson's office. It will begin sending printed versions with correspondence to taxpayers in the near future.
"Congress has passed multiple pieces of legislation with the title of 'Taxpayer Bill of Rights,'" said Olson. "However, taxpayer surveys conducted by my office have found that most taxpayers do not believe they have rights before the IRS and even fewer can name their rights. I believe the list of core taxpayer rights the IRS is announcing today will help taxpayers better understand their rights in dealing with the tax system."
The document lists the following ten taxpayer rights, in a format similar to the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.
1. The Right to Be Informed. Taxpayers have the right to know what they need to do to comply with the tax laws. They are entitled to clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices, and correspondence. They have the right to be informed of IRS decisions about their tax accounts and to receive clear explanations of the outcomes.
2. The Right to Quality Service. Taxpayers have the right to receive prompt, courteous, and professional assistance in their dealings with the IRS, to be spoken to in a way they can easily understand, to receive clear and easily understandable communications from the IRS, and to speak to a supervisor about inadequate service.
3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax. Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties, and to have the IRS apply all tax payments properly.
4. The Right to Challenge the IRS's Position and Be Heard. Taxpayers have the right to raise objections and provide additional documentation in response to formal IRS actions or proposed actions, to expect that the IRS will consider their timely objections and documentation promptly and fairly, and to receive a response if the IRS does not agree with their position.
5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum. Taxpayers are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of most IRS decisions, including many penalties, and have the right to receive a written response regarding the Office of Appeals' decision. They generally have the right to take their cases to court.
6. The Right to Finality. Taxpayers have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to challenge the IRS's position as well as the maximum amount of time the IRS has to audit a particular tax year or collect a tax debt. They have the right to know when the IRS has finished an audit.
7. The Right to Privacy. Taxpayers have the right to expect that any IRS inquiry, examination, or enforcement action will comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary, and will respect all due process rights, including search and seizure protections and will provide, where applicable, a collection due process hearing.
8. The Right to Confidentiality. Taxpayers have the right to expect that any information they provide to the IRS will not be disclosed unless authorized by the taxpayer or by law. They have the right to expect appropriate action will be taken against employees, return preparers, and others who wrongfully use or disclose taxpayer return information.
9. The Right to Retain Representation. Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS. Taxpayers have the right to seek assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic if they cannot afford representation.
10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System. Taxpayers have the right to expect the tax system to consider facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay, or ability to provide information timely. They have the right to receive assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service if they are experiencing financial difficulty or if the IRS has not resolved their tax issues properly and timely through its normal channels.
The timing for updating Publication 1 isn't arbitrary. The IRS is now at the beginning of its peak correspondence mailing season for follow-ups from the 2014 filing season. Initially, the document will be published only in English and Spanish, but versions will be available soon in Chinese, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese.
The IRS will also display posters and signs in its public offices so taxpayers visiting the IRS can easily see and read about their rights. "This information is critically important for taxpayers to read and understand," added Koskinen. "We encourage people to take a moment to read the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, especially when they are interacting with the IRS. While these rights have always been there for taxpayers, we think the time is right to highlight and showcase these rights for people to plainly see."