Need help with your taxes? Good luck reaching someone on the phone at the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS estimates that only 70 percent of the people who call its toll-free help line this tax season will get through to a human being — if the agency meets its service goal.
Callers lucky enough to get through will have to wait on hold an average of nearly 12 minutes, a level of service deemed unacceptable in a report issued Wednesday by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson.
"In other words, the IRS is planning to be unable to answer about three of every 10 calls it receives," said Olson, an independent watchdog within the IRS.
Such poor service, she said, "will cause problems for taxpayers and the IRS alike, as some taxpayers give up and don't bother to file or they make avoidable errors that the IRS then must devote resources toward resolving."
The IRS said it has been inundated with an unprecedented number of calls the past two years from taxpayers with questions about temporary tax breaks passed by Congress to help revive the economy — a phenomenon that is expected to continue this year.
To help, the agency has upgraded its Web site, posting answers to frequent questions, including the status of tax refunds.
"Resources available to deliver telephone services are finite and staffing allocations must be made in light of competing demands necessary to meet other customer needs and preferences," the IRS said in a written response to the report. "The IRS believes a balanced delivery of services through telephone, Internet, face-to-face, and correspondence ensures that our customers, regardless of the channel they choose, receive the best service possible."
In her annual report to Congress, delivered Wednesday, Olson said that poor phone service by the IRS was the most serious problem encountered by taxpayers.
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