Senators Question Commissioner About Company Offering Fee-Based Access to IRS Phone Lines

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It is not news to our readers that the IRS struggles to answer the calls it receives. This frustrates taxpayers and practitioners alike. It interferes with the IRS’s ability to serve taxpayers and impedes taxpayers from understanding and meeting their responsibilities. To help address this problem, a private company, enQ, offers a fee-based service that “drastically reduces the hold time in reaching an IRS agent.”

How does it do this? According to its web-site, it was founded by an MIT trained engineer and “employs proprietary breakthrough patented technology.” The service offers a number of fee-based plans that range from about $100 to $300 a month. While directed at practitioners, it is also available to taxpayers.  To obtain a detailed understanding of the way the service works read the Forbes post cited below.  Essentially, the person who buys the services gets to jump the line of persons waiting to talk to the IRS by riding the coattails of a robo-call.

The service is controversial.

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At Forbes in Is A Private Company’s Automated Dialing Making It Impossible To Reach The IRS?Amber Gray-Fenner wrote a terrific blog post that discusses the service and situates the controversy. As Amber notes, the service implicates issues of fair play and access.

Should phone access to the IRS be dependent on resources and ability and willingness to pay?

Earlier this week Senators Cassidy, Menendez, Young and Warner wrote a letter to Commissioner Rettig. The senators criticize the service and question whether the robo-call approach that enQ apparently uses reduces the quality of phone service for those who do not use the service. The senators also question whether the Service could use Section 7212 to address the problem. That is a criminal statute used when there is an attempt to interfere with administration of internal revenue laws. As the senators explain, “being able to call the IRS is a free, public service that should be available on an equal basis. Paying to receive preferential access to the IRS should not be permitted.”

While criminal prosecution seems a bit far-fetched, the letter highlights how the IRS inability to answer phone calls is inconsistent with fundamental taxpayer rights. The bottom line is that there should not be a need for a service like enQ. The letter ends with a request for the IRS to take steps that would limit the need and demand for the service:

Finally, we ask that you take necessary action to dramatically improve the quality of service called for in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Hold times should be measured by minutes, not hours. The percentage of calls answered should be in the high double-digits, not the high single-digits. Improving service should be an utmost priority to the IRS.

About Leslie Book

Professor Book is a Professor of Law at the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

Comments

  1. What happens if the IRS bans EnQ and the IRS hold times do not improve?

    • Frank Toothaker says

      The system only “works” by pushing non-payers to the end of the line and lengthening their wait times. Stop the line-jumping scheme and wait times will improve for all non-payers regardless of what IRS does with answering the telephone.

    • The service will not improve in the absence of EnQ. The Service is at max capacity and their response cannot “grow” any more.
      I use EnQ sparingly but I do use it and make no apology for doing so. My clients are billed by the hour for rep work and sitting there on hold wastes my time and their money. In my mind it is no different than buying the best software and hardware I can afford to do this job efficiently.
      Anyone who does rep or prep work and has to deal with IRS currently knows how totally dysfunctional they are. Linda (below) summarizes it nicely. I shouldn’t be having to file petitions to protect my clients’ rights because I cannot get to the IRS. EnQ hold times (if any) used to be 5-10 minutes. Now they’re frequently 45-60 min which reflects decreased IRS service and an increase in EnQ subscribers.
      Just think of it a s a fee for service Practitioner Priority LIne.

  2. EnQ is necessary given the current situation with the IRS. Last month I spent 3 days calling the IRS and didn’t get through once. I was on hold for hours and then the call was dropped. I was transferred and the call was dropped. An agent told me that they didn’t have access to faxing so I couldn’t fax my POA to them. On the 4th day I called EnQ and signed up. I was able to speak to an agent in 20 minutes. Yes, we should be able to call the IRS and have our calls answered in a timely fashion but that is not the current reality. I pay for services from companies each month that I used to get for free. Free isn’t any good if I waste days trying to make it work. Even EnQ is having trouble getting through to the IRS in a timely manner–that speaks volumes to how bad this situation really is.

  3. Robert Kantowitz says

    A few comments.
    1. If this did not exist, then someone still could have a bunch of people call the IRS for him and give him the phone once someone picked up. So there is nothing inherently unlawful in this. In fact, if you have a significant issue, $100 is a low cost to pay. I do not see an interference with administration violation unless someone with no IRS business clogged up the lines.
    2. But the fact that this makes a difference shows how badly the IRS handles customer service. Maybe Congress should make the IRS’s funding contingent on improving this interface with taxpayers.
    3. Maybe a federal judge would dismiss the government’s case in an appropriately egregious case where the taxpayer had a substantive need to speak to a rep to resolve it and was unable after multiple attempts. That might get the IRS to pay attention. Maybe Congress should add a provision to this effect, but I doubt they will.

    • Robert Kantowitz says

      The same issue arises with state taxes, too, and not just with phone responses. I saw one where a taxpayer tried to set up a California myFTB account. The procedure is that you go onto their website and set up an account, and then they send you a password by US mail. You must log-in with the password within 21 days from when you set up the account or it disappears. It took three or four tries for the log-in to arrive by mail before the 21-day period expired.

      And there is a separate issue that once you get someone on the phone, you do not have a right to rely on anything they say. Suffice it for me to note that I have caught them from time to time either not knowing the area or claiming to know it and making incorrect assertions.

  4. m k ramadoss cpa says

    Here is an idea. What if any tax professional who wants to contact PPS sends an email to PPS with their telephone number. PPS calls back the professional. So even if lines get clogged up due to calls from companies like enQue, PPS can give priority to requests coming thru email. Anyone sees any problem with the above?

    • ​Here is another approach.
      Like the special portal for uploading 2848s, a new portal can established where tax professional can upload PPS call back request.
      The sign in to the portal is secure and cannot be automated.
      You sign in and leave a phone number to call back.
      This can work as a temporary fix till there is more customer service employees are hired and trained.

    • Robert Kantowitz says

      1. robo-email
      2. Who is going to pay all the new personnel who need to read the emails?

  5. I find it disingenuous for the same Congress that treats the IRS budget like a political toy is now holding the IRS to task for being unable to provide the services Congress refuses to pay for. It’s like handing someone a spoon and telling them to get all the sand off a beach, then coming back a day later and chastising them for there still being sand on the beach.

  6. The IRS is broken and very, very unprofessional. Just read the comments. It tells you everything you need to know. The agents and employees are still locked in the 20th century using FAX machines. That cannot be and is not secure. Most of the identity crime is an inside job. This is the facts. It is not obnoxious, mean spirited and does not violate anyone’s sense of decency. Taxpayers deserve top notch service for tgeir dollars.

    • *their

    • Agree 100% – also want to add that getting rid of CallENQ will ruin smaller businesses who cannot afford hiring 4-5 staff to just call the IRS non-stop and have a ready line available. It won’t be a loss just for taxpayers, but also smaller tax resolution/controversy businesses.

  7. The sad part of this article about “enQ” is that it is only one example of the incompetence and ineptitude of the IRS. enQ would not need to exist if the IRS functioned at perhaps 75% efficiency, rather than today’s perhaps 25%-35% efficiency. As a recent employer, who has owned a tax business for nearly 20 years, stated…” The IRS has always been difficult to work with, but it is like now the wheels have come off”. Depending on who you listen to, the IRS has between 75,000 and 95,000 employees and 30- to 50-year-old technology. Before I spent 15 years dealing with the IRS, I spent 25 years as a Senior Industrial Engineer (B.S.I.E Iowa State University, 1970). The problem is, of the thousands of employees, most of the “head honchos” from the recent commissioners on down can probably recite the whole damn tax code from memory, but they don’t know jack about manpower scheduling, line balancing, efficiency measurements, lines of authority, budgeting, on-going cost reduction planning and programming, justifying automation with R.O.I., work flow (physically scheduling it, reporting it, and tracking needed midcourse corrections), follow-up on deviations from schedules, and so on and so on, and so forth. I have read, in Procedurally Taxing comments elsewhere, apologists for the IRS say, Covid, budget cuts, and retirements have been the problems. Excuse me, business all over this country have not only had their budgets cut, and employees quit and retire, but in many cases the government has SHUT THEM DOWN. They still seem to bake the bread and do the oil changes as needed. I got through to PPS once about 5 months ago (06-18-21). After taking care of business, I asked if the IRS was running short-handed. He/she said like today there are only about 10 of us working on this floor. I guessed that normally there would be about 1000 working on that floor. He/she said that is about right! Here is a typical example of what we put up with outside of enQ. To make a long story short. An Audit Reconsideration, first mailed to IRS on 10-27-20, is still not processed. Wee. The client and I, have been through 4 extensions (one 90-day, three 3-30 day); the 101-page document was sent to TAS; TAS sent it back to Audit Reconsideration (this relayed to me verbally), and two more extensions have been issued as of today. During this time, the state has decided to garnish my client’s wages because they expect a correction to his state return after the audit gets completed. And, you know, we will no doubt file an appeal of the final disposition of the audit reconsideration because you must always get the facts before some people who know the tax code. On last comment on enQ. PPS has a call-back system that works-when they offer it. But they do not often offer it! Usually, you just wait 60 minutes and then get cut off.

    Richard R. Conboy
    Enrolled Agent

  8. Kenneth H. Ryesky, Esq. says

    I note that Jacob Chansley, the so-called “QAnon Shaman” recently was sentenced under a deal by which he pleaded guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 1519, “Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy” That statute was enacted as a provision under Sarbanes-Oxley § 802(a). The text of the section reads:

    =======

    “Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, coversup, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

    =======

    Note the qualifying word “any.”

    With that in mind, note the following:

    IRC § 7601(a): The Secretary shall, to the extent he deems it practicable, cause officers or employees of the Treasury Department to proceed, from time to time, through each internal revenue district and inquire after and concerning all persons therein who may be liable to pay any internal revenue tax, and all persons owning or having the care and management of any objects with respect to which any tax is imposed.

    § 301.7601-1 delegates this obligation down to “Each district director.”

    My IRS ID credential (or, to use law the enforcement parlance as we did, “Potsy”) issued pursuant to the aforecited statute and regulation bore the following legend:

    =======

    KENNETH H. RYESKY

    Whose signature and picture appear above, is duly commissioned as:

    ESTATE TAX ATTORNEY

    And has authority to perform all duties conferred upon such officers under all laws and regulations administered by the Internal Revenue Service, including the authority to investigate, and to require and receive information, as to all matters relating to such laws and regulations.

    =======

    Note the word “investigate.”

    Perhaps there is some fertile ground for Commissioner Rettig to look beyond the IRC by arguing that the taxpayers who try to telephone the IRS are doing so as part of an IRS investigation, and enQ is knowingly impeding those investigations.

    Unfortunately, § 1519 does not seem to give basis to any private right of action.

  9. Steve Kassel, EA says

    The vast majority of calls to IRS by tax professionals are unnecessary. Most of the calls involve things for which the E-Services portal is designed.

    That said, IRS should outlaw all services which allow some to get in line ahead of others.

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