Some Internal Revenue Service (IRS) call centers and services are temporarily shutting down in response to COVID-19.
COVID-19 is the official name for the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. According to Johns Hopkins, as of March 27, 2020, there are 593,291 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 176 territories and countries. The United States has 101,657 confirmed cases with reported cases in every state.
As a result, the President of the United States issued an emergency declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. And, Governors in several states have issued stay-at-home orders and ordered non-essential businesses to close. That includes many federal employees. For example, Social Security offices are closed to the public for in-person service.
The IRS is following suit. A notice on the IRS website declares, “In response to the national emergency and to protect our employees, America’s taxpayers, communities and our partners, the IRS has temporarily closed all Taxpayer Assistance Centers and discontinued face-to-face service throughout the country until further notice. The IRS is continuing to process tax returns, issue refunds, and help taxpayers to the greatest extent possible.”
The IRS subsequently advised in a tweet on March 25, 2020:
Earlier this week, tax professionals confirmed that the IRS is not answering phones at the Offer In Compromise Unit and the Practitioner Priority Service. A message on the OIC Unit advises that “Live telephone assistance is not available at this time.”
Now, the IRS has confirmed that “Due to staff limitations, the Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) line, the e-Services Help Desk line and the e-Services, FIRE and AIR system help desks are closed until further notice.” As a result, IRS suggests that you “Please make IRS.gov your first option for answers to questions.”
Additionally, the IRS is temporarily suspending acceptance of new Income Verification Express Services (IVES) requests and you can expect delays with existing IVES processing. There are also delays in Centralized Authorization File (CAF) number authorizations (notice how I didn’t make a snarky comment there suggesting the latter isn’t out of the ordinary).
There’s more. All AARP Foundation Tax-Aide services and most IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sites have closed. Additionally, all Taxpayer Assistance Centers (TACs) are closed until further notice.
For taxpayers with open Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) cases, the IRS is advising taxpayers and practitioners to call their local TAS office directly. The TAS tweeted:
And those stimulus payment questions? You’ll have to wait on IRS to answer those, too. A notice to practitioners advises that “Additionally, the IRS is unable to answer any questions as yet on stimulus payments. Normal operations will resume as soon as possible. Please check IRS.gov for updates.”
Some of the closures may be frustrating for taxpayers, but there is a silver lining: collection and enforcement actions are limited. Relief ranges from suspending installment agreements payments (you have to make the arrangements) to postponing compliance actions like levies. Audits are also on hold.
And there’s some good news: The IRS will continue to work refund claims where possible, without in-person contact, and issue tax refunds. You can check the IRS “Get Refund Status” tool for refund updates.
Eventually, things will get back to normal. In the meantime, be prepared for extended wait times for calls and correspondence. Be proactive and patient.
If you have an update or tip, here’s how to reach me (including secure methods for employees who wish to remain anonymous).