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August 18, 2017

IRS Limiting the Number of In-Person Appeals Conferences

As tax attorneys in Columbus, Ohio, we assist individuals and businesses with tax examinations, tax audits, appeals, and litigation relating to civil tax matters at the federal, state, and local levels, including with the IRS and the Ohio Department of Taxation. Further, the tax attorneys at Nardone Limited routinely advise taxpayers about their appeal rights as part of our tax controversy work. As an example, we assist taxpayers with filing appeals requests at the administrative level with the appropriate taxing authority, including the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and the Ohio Department of Taxation and then any necessary appeals. Generally, taxpayers prefer in-person appeals conferences as in-person appeals conferences are potentially more beneficial than other forms of conferences, such as telephone conferences. This article is the first of two regarding the IRS’s recent policy relating to in-person appeals conferences.

IRS Policy Change

In 2016, the IRS changed its policy regarding in-person appeals conferences to try and resolve appeals in less burdensome ways, such as by telephone or through virtual conferences. IRS Fact Sheet, Changes to Case Transfer and Conference Procedure (Oct. 3, 2016). According to the IRS, the change came after the IRS found that some language in Appeals’ letters that suggested to taxpayers that they needed to request an in-person appeals conference to take full advantage of the appeals process. See IRS Fact Sheet. The IRS found that many of the cases where taxpayers requested in-person appeals conferences could be, and usually are, handled through other methods, such as by telephone. See IRS Fact Sheet. According to the IRS, the IRS believes the policy changes will clarify procedures for taxpayers and make sure taxpayer dollars are used more efficiently. See IRS Fact Sheet. In-person appeals conferences are not being eliminated. Rather, the IRS is taking the position that in-person appeals conferences are no longer the preferred method for appeals resolution. See IRS Fact Sheet. Although the IRS contends that in-person appeals conferences are not preferred over any other method of appeals resolution, there are distinct advantages to being face to face with the appeals officer.

Benefits of an In-Person Appeals Conference

From Nardone Limited’s perspective, there are many reasons why in-person appeals conferences may lead to more resolutions than other methods, such as via telephone conference. Tax appeals can be extremely complicated and technical, and it is not always possible to fully discuss such cases over the phone. Tax appeals can also be large cases that span multiple years with massive amounts of documents and figures which, again, are not easy to fully discuss over the phone. Another reason is simply human nature. It is easier to say no to someone you have never met over the phone than it is to say no directly to someone’s face. It is also much easier to establish rapport with the parties in an in-person meeting than it is over the phone. During in-person appeals conferences, taxpayers and their attorneys can read the body language and facial expressions of the IRS appeals officers to gauge how their arguments are being received, and can change their method of presentation to reach a better result for the taxpayer. This is impossible to do over the telephone.

Ultimately, from Nardone Limited’s perspective, the IRS implemented the new policy to decrease the number of in-person appeals conferences to save money. There is an argument, however, that the policy will actually end up costing both the IRS and the taxpayers more in the long run.  If appeals are unable to be resolved during a telephone conference, some taxpayers will be forced to litigate against the IRS, and, as a result, the IRS will be forced to expend more money to defend its position. Potentially, the cost of defending such cases could cost the IRS more than initially allowing more in-person appeals conferences. To take advantage of these benefits, the taxpayer should request an in-person appeals conference if the facts and circumstances of the taxpayer’s case would allow the taxpayer to benefit most from an in-person appeals conference. But, the conference may be held out of state and force the taxpayer to travel far to attend an in-person appeals conference. As a result, the taxpayers should weigh the cost of traveling to an in-person appeals conference to receive these benefits, with the cost savings of other methods of resolution, such as telephone conferences. The mechanics of how and when in-person appeals conference requests are granted are discussed in our follow-up article, Requesting an In-Person Appeals Conference.

Conclusion

An in-person appeals conference is not necessary in every case. In some cases, telephone conferences and other methods of resolution can lead to a settlement and end up saving both the taxpayer and the IRS time and resources. From Nardone Limited’s perspective, this was the reasoning behind the new IRS policy to limit the number of in-person appeals conferences. But, there are many appeals cases that would benefit from having an in-person appeals conference, especially those cases which are technical and complicated. We strongly encourage the IRS to reconsider their policy change because we believe the policy change will result in an increase of costs and less rights to taxpayers. Taxpayers should weigh the benefits of an in-person appeals conference against the potential cost of traveling to the conference, or potential litigation if the conference does not result in a favorable outcome for the taxpayer. The IRS may grant a taxpayer’s request for an in-person appeals conference, however, the IRS may require that a taxpayer located in Ohio travel to Oklahoma for the conference, as an example. Ultimately, choosing the right method for an appeals conference will ultimately save the taxpayer time and money.

Contact Nardone Limited

Nardone Limited frequently represents individuals and businesses in federal, state, and local civil tax matters, including appeals. If you or your business have been contacted by the IRS, or are struggling with tax liabilities, you should contact one of our tax attorneys today. We will thoroughly review your case to determine what options and alternatives are available to you.

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August 18, 2017

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