In an effort to fulfill the IRS’s mission, Uncle Sam provides a Bill of Rights for Taxpayers. Before you get too excited, refresh your memory about the Mission Statement:
Provide America’s taxpayers top-quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.
You’ll notice that the underlying stated mission is not specifically to help the taxpayers resolve tax liability, but to help taxpayers comprehend why taxes are necessary. In other words, the IRS’s ultimate goal is, in part, to help taxpayers fund an organization that requires taxpayers to pay, in part, for understanding why they are funding that organization.
- The right to be informed.
- The right to quality service.
- The right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax.
- The right to challenge the IRS’s position and be heard.
- The right to appeal an IRS decision in an independent forum.
- The right to finality.
- The right to privacy.
- The right to confidentiality.
- The right to retain representation.
- The right to a fair and just tax system.
If you visit http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1.pdf, you’ll find the IRS’s validation for each Right. Some of the commentary is inadvertently downright funny. For instance, taxpayers are entitled to clear explanations about the tax laws and IRS procedures, including being “spoken to in a way they can easily understand.” (Note that the Bill of Rights is printed in both English and Spanish.) Taxpayers can “speak to a supervisor about inadequate service.” (No guarantee here that taxpayer will necessarily gain satisfaction from the conversation, but, hey, at least you get to speak to somebody higher up.) And then there’s the right to confidentiality. (What with the constant dangers of identity theft, it’s probably a safe bet that your own private information will remain forever undisclosed to the public. Right?)
My favorite? “Taxpayers have the right to know when the IRS has finished an audit.” (Imagine the trauma of having a Revenue Agent show up at your business day after day after day, presumably to continue an unending and highly stressful audit of your books. And then much later you find out that the Revenue Officer was just swigging your bottled water and your imported coffees and that the audit had been over for weeks!)
Despite the unintentional humor, however, it’s important to mention that the IRS outlines the following as part of 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.
Also, regarding 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.”
The key to observance of both of these rights lies within the small phrases: Who determines when the IRS is being “more intrusive than necessary”? Who determines what facts and circumstances might affect your tax obligations and your ability to pay?
Generally the answer to both questions is: the IRS itself. The IRS is vested with the authority to make determinations concerning your tax obligations within the scope of the Internal Revenue Code. Understandably, few taxpayers pour over the cumbersome and very long Code in order to keep informed about it. The taxpayer is left defensive and very vulnerable during audits or attempted resolution of the tax debt. Under such duress, the taxpayer often surrenders more information than what is required during the audit, or agrees to payment of tax debt under heavy terms which are not practical or doable.