Article Review: How Can Tax Collection Be Structured to Observe and Preserve Taxpayer Rights: A Discussion of Practices and Possibilities

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We welcome back guest blogger Sonya Watson who teaches at UNLV law school where she is an assistant professor in residence and the director of the Rosenblum Family Foundation Tax Clinic. As mentioned before, she is one of the new clinic professors now writing a regular feature which describes law review articles on tax procedure issues. She has selected an article I wrote a couple of years ago on taxpayer rights. Assisting her in the preparation of this post is her student, Vincent Kwan. Keith

In this article by Keith Fogg and Sime Jozipovic, the authors address the U.S. tax system and explore the rights of taxpayers in different countries for comparison. The article generally focuses its discussion on taxpayer rights and collections, but specifically on the enforcement mechanisms used by various governments.

Generally, the government’s inability to collect and enforce collection can be seen as a failure of the system that makes those who comply with tax laws feel as if others have an unfair advantage. However, the government must balance forced compliance against those who do not pay voluntarily with caution so as not to “drive [noncompliant taxpayers] to an underground economy, to discontinue producing income or to economic positions that fall through the necessary social safety net.” To properly and effectively enforce the tax laws, the government must consider the rights of the taxpayer as well as what the government can do to ensure compliance.


According to Fogg and Jozipovic, there are three taxpayer rights that must be preserved to main an effective tax system, which include the right to be informed, the right to challenge the underlying liability and proposed collection action, and the right to a fair and just tax system. To give a more well-rounded and holistic view of the way in which the government can preserve taxpayer rights, the authors discuss the tax collection systems of the United States, England, Germany, Switzerland, Croatia, and Australia. The article highlights the differences between tax systems and taxpayer’s rights in each country, judging the efficacy of each system in protecting the rights of its citizens. The article concludes with a proposal on how to best structure the tax system to maximize taxpayer rights with an optimal collection strategy.

The authors start with the United States tax system and describe the process in detail; however, for the sake of brevity, we will note only the highlights. The collection of taxes begins with a volunteer assessment except when taxpayers fail to file a return, in which case the government will ultimately prepare a return for the taxpayer. After voluntary assessment, or an assessment that is the result of an examination, IRC Section 6303 requires the IRS to send a “Notice and Demand” letter within 60 days of the assessment, alerting the taxpayer that the collection process has begun. If the taxpayer has taxes owed, the letter states the amount of tax owed and requests payment within 10 days.

IRS collection alternatives provide debt relief for those taxpayers who are unable to pay. Collection alternatives include Currently Not Collectible status, Offer in Compromise, and installment agreements. Additionally, taxpayers can seek relief from all debts through bankruptcy by obtaining a discharge of taxes which have grown old. There is also the option of postponing and restructuring the payment of the taxes in the Bankruptcy Code’s reorganization chapters.

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights plays a large role in ensuring that IRS collections is fair and just. It mandates that taxpayers have the right to be informed and the right to pay no more than correct amount of tax. The IRS often falls short of honoring these rights. A few ways the IRS falls short is by sending taxpayers notices that are difficult to understand, by providing account transcripts that are difficult for taxpayers to read, and by failing to have adequate staff available to answer taxpayer questions about tax debt collection. To address this, the authors propose having “the IRS send taxpayers an account transcript with the annual statement of outstanding liability” and also “having an adequate phone presence with properly trained assistors who can explain the account transactions, which would ensure that taxpayers will have the opportunity to learn the basis of their liability when questions arise.” Such measures would help to ensure that taxpayers who cannot afford representation have as good a chance of obtaining a good result as those taxpayers who can afford representation. Not all taxpayers receive the same treatment when they owe taxes. Sometimes, there is discrimination of taxpayers based on who they work for, such as “encouraging” government employees to pay their federal taxes. However, doing so removes fairness from the system.

Through the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the U.S. has tried to systematize the procedural rights of taxpayers around the world. However, due to the many differences and complexities between countries, systemization is somewhat difficult as there is great divergence in the various tax systems. The authors compare the U.S. tax system to solutions in the field of tax debt enforcement in the UK, Australia, Germany, Croatia, and Switzerland, analyzing the tax mechanism in those countries and what the U.S. can learn from them.



Unlike the U.S., where taxation is generally centralized in the federal government, there is a high level of decentralization in the Swiss tax system in that the Swiss regional entities— cantons—can implement their own taxes and their own measures of tax collection.

By relying on preventive distraints, the Swiss tax law has a developed system to prevent tax collection default. Preventive distraints can be voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary distraints exist “with the consent of the taxpayer pursuant to a compromise agreement between the taxpayer and the tax authorities.” On the other hand, an involuntary preventive distraint can only occur under certain circumstances defined by law such as “where the taxpayer has no permanent residence or headquarters in Switzerland, and where the tax authorities have objective reasons to believe that it may not be possible to collect the tax.” The term “Sicherungsverfügung” describes the administrative act that contains the reasoning of the taxing authority and the measures to apply. If the taxpayer fails to pay on time, taxing authorities utilize a preventive distraint, which permits them to take possession of “property of the taxpayers valuable enough to satisfy the tax liability, including any interest and penalties, while title to the property remains with the taxpayer.”

As far as tax debt forgiveness, there is a unified system to regulate forgiveness of federal taxes. The procedure begins with the taxpayer’s request. “If the tax authorities agree to settle the debt, they can decrease, forgive or defer the debt and as mentioned above, if they deem necessary, include a voluntary preventive distraint as requirement.”

Regarding taxpayer rights, there are few guidelines published for taxpayers and they only briefly touch on taxpayer rights. Generally, most taxpayer rights such as the right to equal treatment, the right to be informed, and the right to challenge the underlying liability, have their basis in the Swiss Federal Constitution (“Bundesverfassung”). The general provision in “article 8 of the Federal Constitution guarantees equal treatment before the law, and article 127 (2) guarantees equal treatment of taxpayers and taxation based on the economic capacity of an individual.” Also, see Article 29 (1) for procedure before a public authority, Article 29 (2), for the right to be heard in any procedure before a public body, and Article 36 (3) for the rule of proportionality. 


Similar to the U.S., Australia primarily uses a centralized taxing authority. Regarding tax collection enforcement, if a taxpayer does not satisfy a tax obligation, the taxing authorities file a claim of summons with the court to have the court recognize that the debt is duly owed. The taxing authorities then have several methods for enforcement to seize a taxpayer’s personal and real property to satisfy a liability. Also, taxing authorities can force both corporations as well as individual taxpayers into a bankruptcy proceeding. On the extreme end, if the company [d]oes not pay or enter a payment plan within 21 days, the tax authority can place it into a liquidating procedure, also known as a “wind-up.” If this occurs, a trustee will liquidate the company and assuming sufficient assets exist, the creditors will receive payment from the liquidated assets.”

Also similar to the U.S. tax system, there are many ways to discharge a tax liability in full, including deferral rules, agreements with taxpayers, and special hardship rules. Also, taxpayers can enter into an installment plan, but the decision rests within the discretion of the taxing authorities. If there is hardship, there is a limit on certain individual taxes and duties, requiring that relief “must have a positive effect on the economic situation of the taxpayer; accordingly, a taxpayer who would be insolvent regardless of the hardship release would not be granted tax forgiveness.”

Unlike the U.S. and other countries, Australia does not have a taxpayer bill of rights. Instead, Australia has a taxpayer charter—a sort of bill of rights that taxpayers can expect in their interactions with taxing authorities. However, it is not as comprehensive as that of the U.S. Therefore, Australian taxpayers have scant rights. Three rights of significance in the charter include the right to receive an explanation of decisions, the right to fair and reasonable treatment, and the right for an independent review.

As the authors note “The European Union serves as a supranational body limited to influencing just those areas of legislation of the member states within the competences explicitly transferred to the EU.” Many aspects of European law overlap with tax collection and enforcement. Such overlap results from the EU fundamental freedoms which include the free movement of capital, the free movement of goods, the free movement of persons, and the free movement of services. In this vain, the EU’s laws limit the types and amounts of relief that its member states may provide. Additionally, the EU’s Tax Claims Recovery Act, an enforcement network covering all of the EU, affects how tax compliance is enforced. However, member nations can use their own enforcement mechanisms to collect tax debt. However, because the EU strictly limits debt forgiveness, debt forgiveness is largely the result of state aid.


The German tax collection system, like the U.S. system, is built around the country’s federal structure. Tax collection is within the competences of the Länder, the German federal states, which agree on an interstate contract, defining the basic procedures of tax collection. Germany has been a stable country economically, requiring little restricting compared to other EU states.

Enforced tax collection in Germany is executed by either the authority that issued the primary tax assessment or by any other tax authority in the country as the result of cooperation rules. Enforcement methods include seizure of personal and real property, forced insolvency proceedings in the case of corporation, and forced property evaluations for individuals. Once an assessment is made, taxpayers have limited options to protect themselves from enforced collection.

However, debt forgiveness is available based on the German Duties Act (Abgabenordung, AO), which “contains the essential material rules of tax forgiveness.” There are two main rules regarding tax forgiveness: a substantive rule contained in section 227 for tax forgiveness in cases defining application of the merits of the imposition of tax, and a procedural rule contained in the interstate agreement called a deferral agreement “Stundungserlass” which addresses forgiveness from a collection perspective.” While tax debt forgiveness is possible for every taxpayer in Germany, and the German system exhibits a good measure equitable treatment for all taxpayers, the German system is very rigid in granting the tax relief. The German Fundamental Law, “Grundgesetz,” the de facto constitution, of Germany has rules that form basis for taxpayer rights, but does not contain rules that specifically apply in matters of tax law.


While Croatia has membership in the EU, it is the least developed country analyzed in this article. Despite reforms in recent years, it still has not achieved the efficiency and sophistication of the systems of Western European countries. This likely stems from Croatia’s economic crisis, which results from “a nation-wide high unemployment rate and significant private debt have lead in recent years to a steep increase of tax collection problems. Currently in Croatia, about 8% of the adult citizens and more than 40,000 corporations have blocks on their bank accounts.”

Regarding enforced tax collection, like in the U.S., Croatian taxing authorities in have the right to seize tangible property, funds in bank accounts, and tax refunds. Croatian taxpayers do have to receive notice about their tax debt but not necessarily the right to be heard regarding the tax debt. Only when taxing authorities fail to at least attempt to provide appropriate notice to taxpayers prior to taking collection action do taxpayers possibly have the right to challenge the decision of the taxing authority. Also like in the U.S., Croatian taxing authorities may levy a taxpayer’s salary until a tax debt is satisfied.

Unlike in the U.S., Croatia does not provide for tax debt forgiveness through insolvency (bankruptcy). Therefore tax debts remain on the books until the expiration of the statute of limitations plus four years after the statute of limitations and tax collection is not possible, or until taxing authorities decide to remove the debt from the books. However, pre-insolvency “procedure allows the creditors and the taxpayer to reach an agreement on debt forgiveness, payment plans, potential debt-equity swaps or the transfer of certain property between the taxpayer and the creditors.”

In Croatia, the constitution provides the main source of general tax principles, and in comparison to the other analyzed systems, the Croatian tax system is simpler, aiming to have a system that the citizens can understand. The Croatian General Tax Code (Opći porezni zakon), regulates the fundamental procedural issues for all types of taxes, and contains its own bill of procedural taxpayer rights. Unfortunately, only corporations may receive tax debt forgiveness in Croatia, which leaves individuals, for whom only forbearance is available, vulnerable. This policy promotes noncompliance in individuals, making them likely to work “under the table” rather than voluntarily participate in the tax system.

United Kingdom

Like the U.S., the United Kingdom has a highly developed tax system, based on a federal agency that is responsible for the collection. Also like the U.S., it has a special department for enforcement procedures. Before the taxing authority may proceed with enforced collection, there must be a fixed and determined tax liability and a demand for payment which the taxpayer refuses. Enforcement methods include seizure of income and property as well as initiation of bankruptcy proceedings. While debt relief generally may occur only through a bankruptcy proceeding, other debt relief options include forbearance and installment agreements.

The constitution of the UK is composed of various sources, such as the Human Rights Act of 1998, and the European Convention on Human Rights, which have a very narrow impact in the area of tax law and tax procedure. Instead, the UK has a separate Charter of Taxpayers’ Rights. There are many rights, such as the right to be treated even-handedly, the right to appeal, the right to “be respected,” and the right to have the taxpayer’s personal circumstances considered. UK taxpayers also have “the right to help and support to get things right [which] includes a broad right to information about which taxes are owed and why.”


Not surprisingly, the basis and presentation of taxpayer rights vary among countries. The right to information and equal treatment are generally accepted principles in all jurisdictions. However, “access to information and the right to protest are, albeit present in all jurisdictions, to a certain extent handled differently.” As the authors illustrate, developing a strong tax system grounded in due process is paramount to taxpayer rights. It is vital that taxpayers receive due process prior to enforced collections.

Despite the relatively advanced nature of the U.S. tax system compared to that of other countries, the U.S. system still leaves much to be desired. Even though due process exists, for some taxpayers, particularly low-income taxpayers, it can be inaccessible because the process is so complex. Looking to the German model, the U.S. should consider the “presented civil law model, which grants the taxpayers in most civil law countries a direct remedy against statutes or actions by tax authorities.” Furthermore, while a direct discrimination of a taxpayer would under most civil law constitutions be considered unconstitutional, and therefore such an approach as illegal, the problem in the United States does not lie with the case-by-case discrimination of taxpayers. It rather lies in the inherent discrimination of low-income taxpayers who do not have the same access to information and legal advice, and who therefore depend much more on an efficient tax authority for direction.

The authors propose that “one solution could be a fast-track insolvency procedure which would allow taxpayers to start over after just a few years similar to the solution in the UK. The authors further propose that more collection would be better pursued through regular tax procedure rather than collection enforcement procedures. They also not that a more accurate withholding system could prevent enforcement from being necessary. Additionally, the U.S. should consider reforming the procedures that take place before enforcement, which would help clean up the “complex system of debt forgiveness, information distribution, enforcement and taxpayer protection,” even though these procedures in the U.S. are more developed than those in other countries.







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