Taxpayer Advocate urges IRS to adopt a Taxpayer Bill of Rights

A federal tax watchdog recently renewed its call for a "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" to help restore public trust in the Internal Revenue Service. In a January 2014 report to Congress, the Taxpayer Advocate Service said a Taxpayer Bill of Rights is needed to help ensure that taxpayers are aware of their rights when dealing with the IRS and that they know how to exercise those rights.

Improving compliance by restoring trust in the tax system

The Taxpayer Advocate Service, an oversight arm of the IRS, has been recommending the adoption of a Taxpayer Bill of Rights since 2007. The issue took on new urgency this year in the wake of the controversy that erupted in 2013 over allegations of bias in the agency's treatment of certain political groups.

In its report, the TAS argued that widespread mistrust of the IRS makes taxpayers less likely to comply voluntarily with the tax code. By creating a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, TAS contends, Congress could help restore trust in the tax system and encourage voluntary compliance with federal tax laws.

What would be included in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights?

The Internal Revenue Code in its current form already includes numerous rights for taxpayers. However, as the TAS report explained, most taxpayers are unaware of these rights because they are "scattered throughout the code and are not presented in a coherent way." In fact, according to a 2012 survey cited by the TAS, less than 50 percent of U.S. taxpayers said they believed they had rights with regard to the IRS, while only 11 percent said they knew what their taxpayer rights were.

The recommended Taxpayer Bill of Rights would address this issue by clearly identifying 10 basic rights for taxpayers, including the right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax owed and the right to appeal an IRS decision. In its proposed form, the measure would also identify several taxpayer responsibilities, including the responsibility to be truthful in preparing tax returns and to make tax payments on time.

New York's Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Although the federal government has not yet adopted an official Taxpayer Bill of Rights, New York has already done so at the state level. The New York Taxpayer Bill of Rights identifies several rights for taxpayers, including the right to dispute a tax bill or audit and the right to be represented by an attorney during tax proceedings.

When dealing with issues of tax law, whether at the state or federal level, it is often beneficial to get help from an experienced tax lawyer. An attorney who is knowledgeable in this complex area of the law can work with clients to resolve any existing tax issues and identify strategies to help prevent future tax controversies from arising.