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William Byrnes (Texas A&M) tax & compliance articles

Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Posted by William Byrnes on January 9, 2014

Published via the IRS Newswire (IR-2014-3) and on the Taxpayer Advocate website of the IRS,  National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson today released her 2013 annual report to Congress, urging the Internal Revenue Service to adopt a comprehensive Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR).

The Newswire reminds the public that in a prior report, Olson analyzed the IRS’s processing of applications for tax-exempt status and concluded its procedures violated eight of the ten taxpayer rights she has proposed.  The current Report though provided a broad rationale, based on internal coherence, collection efficiency, and international practices for Congress to codify a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and for the meanwhile the IRS to issue its own.  Examples of international practice included, by example, references to OECD Reports and to Canada’s practice.  The Report quotes Thomas Jefferson: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”{1}

The Newswire quotes the Report “Taxpayer rights are central to voluntary compliance.  If taxpayers believe they are treated, or can be treated, in an arbitrary and capricious manner, they will mistrust the tax system and be less likely to comply with the laws voluntarily. If taxpayers have confidence in the fairness and integrity of the system, they will be more likely to comply.”

Regarding efficiency, the Newswire focuses on the report’s emphasis that the U.S. tax system is built on voluntary compliance: 98% percent of all tax revenue the IRS collects is paid timely and voluntarily. Only 2% results from IRS enforcement actions.  While arguing that knowledge of taxpayer rights promotes voluntary compliance, the report cites a survey of U.S. taxpayers conducted for TAS in 2012 that found less than half of respondents believed they have rights before the IRS and only 11 percent said they knew what those rights are.

Regarding coherence, the Report states: “The Internal Revenue Code provides dozens of real, substantive taxpayer rights.  However, these rights are scattered throughout the Code and are not presented in a coherent way. Consequently, most taxpayers have no idea what their rights are and therefore often cannot take advantage of them.”

The report calls on the IRS to take the taxpayer rights that already exist and group them into ten broad categories, modeled on the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The report says the “simplicity and clarity” of a thematic, principle-based Taxpayer Bill of Rights would help taxpayers understand their rights in general terms.

1. The Right to Be Informed

2. The Right to Quality Service

3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax

4. The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard

5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum

6. The Right to Finality

7. The Right to Privacy

8. The Right to Confidentiality

9. The Right to Retain Representation

10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System, Including Access to the Taxpayer Advocate Service

Read the complete Report at http://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/2013-Annual-Report/full-2013-annual-report-to-congress/

{1} Report Volume 1, Page 7.

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