The Internal Revenue Service’s Taxpayer Advocate Service is temporarily changing the criteria it uses for accepting cases and said it would no longer deal with cases in which the problem involves an IRS delay in processing certain tax documents.

The TAS said it was refocusing its workload in order to focus on taxpayers who need assistance the most and because of budget constraints at the IRS. In a document on the IRS Web site, the service said it was temporarily limiting its acceptance of cases when the taxpayer’s problem involves an IRS delay in processing tax documents.

“If the taxpayer is not currently facing an imminent threat of enforcement action or otherwise experiencing situations that meet the definition of an economic burden, TAS will refer the taxpayer to the appropriate IRS function specializing in return processing issues, rather than accepting the problem as a TAS case,” said the service.

TAS defined “economic burden” according to four criteria: the taxpayer is experiencing economic harm or is about to suffer economic harm; the taxpayer is facing an immediate threat of adverse action; the taxpayer will incur significant costs if relief is not granted (including fees for professional representation); or the taxpayer will suffer irreparable injury or long-term adverse impact if relief is not granted.

Effective Oct. 1, 2011, the TAS said it generally would no longer accept cases that only involve processing delays for the following issues: original returns; unpostable or reject returns; amended returns; and injured spouse claims.

The service said it would no longer accept so-called “systemic burden” cases that fit the following criteria: the taxpayer has experienced a delay of more than 30 days to resolve a tax account problem; the taxpayer has not received a response or resolution to the problem or inquiry by the date promised; or a system or procedure has either failed to operate as intended, or failed to resolve the taxpayer’s problem or dispute with the IRS.

In these categories of cases, processing delays at the IRS typically arise either because the affected functions are overloaded with work or because of systemic processing glitches, TAS noted. Assuming these processing delays do not create an economic burden, the taxpayer advocate’s role is typically limited to contacting the appropriate IRS function to advocate for resolution of the taxpayer’s problem, providing updates to taxpayers, and looking for patterns of delay to identify systemic problems. However, TAS will no longer accept these categories of cases, at least temporarily, in order to focus its limited resources on economic burden cases and on systemic burden cases in which it can play a more direct role in affecting the outcome.

The Taxpayer Advocate Service, which is led by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, had previously accepted cases before the IRS had the opportunity to work directly with the taxpayer to resolve the issue. However, the service is now experiencing budget constraints and increased demand as the IRS steps up its enforcement efforts.

“In the current federal budget environment, it has become clear that TAS will not have the resources to continue to handle its current inventory levels without adverse impact on its ability to provide effective and timely service,” said the TAS. “For that reason, we have been considering how to prioritize cases to ensure we can provide effective service to taxpayers who most need our assistance or whom TAS is best suited to assist.”

In cases of systemic burdens when, for example, a refund for an amended return was delayed for over four months, TAS will now refer the taxpayer to the appropriate IRS office and not work on the case. However, TAS added the caveat that it would help with a case when it received a referral from a congressional office. Also, if the expected refund would resolve an outstanding balance on another year’s return, it would also help the taxpayer to get that matter settled.

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