The IRS Tax payer Advocate posted on its blog that IRS phone service was inadequate prior to the pandemic and spiraled from there, with calls reaching an all-time high and level of service (LOS) falling to an all-time low. IRS phone service was inadequate prior to the pandemic and spiraled from there, with calls reaching an all-time high and level of service (LOS) falling to an all-time low.
Call volume nearly tripled in the last year and only 11% of calls reached a customer service representative (CSR). During fiscal year (FY) 2021, the IRS received a record 282 million calls, but only 32 million of those calls were answered by CSRs. In the first half of 2021 alone, fewer than 15,000 employees were available to handle more than 240 million calls – one person for every 16,000 calls. The IRS reports average hold times of 23 minutes, but practitioners and taxpayers have observed that hold times were often much longer.
CSRs also assist with IRS processing of a paper inventory backlog including:
- Six million original returns;
- Two million amended returns;
- One million employer quarterly returns; and
- Five million pieces of taxpayer correspondence
CSRs are too busy answering the phones to address their paper backlog and return processing is delayed as a result. This prompts taxpayers to call to ask about the status of their returns, which further swamps the phone lines and pulls CSRs away from return processing, perpetuating the spiral of delay.
One sign of the extent to which these delays have seeped into the tax culture is the cottage industry that has sprung up to assist tax practitioners in getting through to the IRS. Some practitioners hire companies that use automated technology to continually dial IRS phone lines until they finally get through on behalf of their customers. One firm charges up to $1,000 per month for this service, straining IRS phone lines and making it even more difficult for the average taxpayer to reach the IRS. It’s a bad look for the IRS and unfair to taxpayers when some can essentially pay to cut to the front of the line and receive services that should be equally available to all.
The best days to call the IRS are Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The IRS advises that wait times are the longest on Mondays and Tuesdays, Presidents Day weekend, and close to the April filing deadline.