IRS Struggled to Answer Calls in the 2021 Tax Season

A recent article from Law 360 Tax Authority noted that the Internal Revenue Service received more telephone calls during the 2021 filing season than it’s ever received in a full fiscal year. Unfortunately, few calls reached a live person.

According to a report from the National Taxpayer’s Advocate (NTA), the IRS received roughly 167 million calls on its toll-free lines in the 2021 filling season through May 22, with approximately 9% reaching a live assistor. Of those calls roughly 150 million were to accounts management lines where only 7% of calls got through to a live assistor.

The IRS has noted that phone demand has been at historically high levels, with over 41 million callers receiving help from live assistors as of June 19.

The 2021 filing season may have been the most challenging one taxpayers, tax professional and the IRS have ever experienced given the unforeseen circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The IRS processed 136 million individual income tax returns and issued 96 million refunds during the 2021 filing season, which closely matched the last typical filing season in 2019.

The IRS ended the 2021 filing season with a backlog of more than 35 million individual and business tax returns that required manual processing, which means employee involvement is generally needed before the return can advance to the next processing state. The NTA report went on to note that while during a typical filing season the IRS can quickly determine if an error was made and move the return through the process, the 2021 filing season was anything but typical leading to long delays in the process. 

IRS employees are continuing to work to catch up from pandemic related delays with tax return processing and as of June 18 the IRS had processed more than 142.7 million tax returns.

The NTA report said the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) will work with the IRS to determine the total scope of customer service representative work and to expand text chat and call back technology. The TAS will keep up advocacy for sufficient and sustained multiyear funding for IRS customer service and continue pushing the IRS to provide timely and useful information for at least 85% of taxpayers needing assistance over the phone.

Commissioner of the IRS, Charles Rettig, told the Senate Finance Committee in a recent meeting that the IRS is continuing to work through the backlog in returns. Rettig noted that the IRS is current on all returns receives in the 2020 calendar year and are continuing to work through the returns for the 2021 tax year.

It can take more than 21 days for the IRS to process refunds on certain e-filed returns. Mailed correspondence is taking longer to process. You can use the IRS “Where’s My Refund” tool on our website to check the status of your return.

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