IRS says online FAQs aren’t legally authoritative
The Internal Revenue Service has issued a memorandum for its field examiners instructing them that frequently asked questions and other items posted on the agency’s IRS.gov site that have not been published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin are not considered to be legal authority.
The IRS has increasingly directed taxpayers and tax professionals to check its website for information when they have questions instead of calling its overburdened phone lines, particularly during tax season. However, the IRS’s guidance now casts doubt on whether the information on IRS.gov can be relied on, especially when it’s in the form of FAQs that are supposed to help taxpayers find responses to the most common questions.
“The purpose of this memorandum is to issue guidance to remind examiners that frequently asked questions (FAQs) and other items posted on IRS.gov that have not been published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin are not legal authority,” said the memorandum, sent last month by IRS examination director Michael W. Damasiewicz to IRS area directors. “The FAQs and other items should not be used to sustain a position unless the items (e.g., FAQs) explicitly indicate otherwise or the IRS indicates otherwise by press release or by notice or announcement published in the Bulletin.”
He pointed out that the Internal Revenue Bulletin is considered to be the “authoritative instrument” for announcing official IRS rulings and procedures and for publishing Treasury Decisions, Executive Orders, Tax Conventions, legislation, court decisions, and other items of general interest. The bulletin is published on a weekly basis by the Government Printing Office, he noted.
“It is the policy of the Service to publish in the Bulletin all substantive rulings necessary to promote a uniform application of the tax laws, including rulings that supersede, revoke, modify, or amend any of those previously published in the Bulletin,” said Damasiewicz. “All published rulings apply retroactively unless otherwise indicated.”
He stressed in an all-caps note of caution that FAQs that have been published on the website, but not in the bulletin, aren’t legal authority.
“CAUTION: Internal Revenue Service employees must follow items published in the Bulletin and taxpayers may rely on them,” said Damasiewicz. “Some items, such as FAQs, can be found on IRS.gov but have not been published in the Bulletin. FAQs that appear on IRS.gov but that have not been published in the Bulletin are not legal authority and should not be used to sustain a position unless the items (e.g., FAQs) explicitly indicate otherwise or the IRS indicates otherwise by press release or by notice or announcement published in the Bulletin.”