What’s been hinted at for years has come to pass:
Taxpayers now have their own Bill of Rights, courtesy of the IRS.
Actually, they’ve had these rights for years. They just didn’t know it. Little wonder — explanations of these rights are sprinkled throughout the U.S. Tax Code, where logic, reason and common sense often go to die. Seriously, if there’s something you don’t want taxpayers to know, hiding it in the Tax Code is a great idea.
At least one person, though — National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson — thinks these rights should be easy to find and understand. Olson’s office has fought for years for a comprehensive Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
“Congress has passed multiple pieces of legislation with the title of ‘Taxpayer Bill of Rights,'” Olson said. “However, taxpayer surveys conducted by my office have found that most taxpayers do not believe they have rights before the IRS and even fewer can name their rights. I believe the list of core taxpayer rights the IRS is announcing will help taxpayers better understand their rights in dealing with the tax system.”
IRS Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer, have been updated with the new Bill of Rights, which contains 10 key provisions:
- The right to be informed.
- The right to quality service.
- The right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax.
- The right to challenge the IRS’s position and be heard.
- The right to appeal an IRS decision in an independent forum.
- The right to finality.
- The right to privacy.
- The right to confidentiality.
- The right to retain representation.
- The right to a fair and just tax system.
On the surface, some of those seem awfully vague. (Who defines quality? Or finality? Or what’s private, or fair and just?) But then I actually, you know, read Publication 1, and guess what? Those rights are pretty well defined and easy to understand.
“If you don’t know what your rights are, you will never avail yourself of those rights,” Olson told the Journal of Accountancy. “On the other hand, an educated tax consumer is the most protected tax consumer.”
So kudos to Olson and the IRS for logically curating the stuff taxpayers should know.
In lieu of tax reform, maybe a little tax education is a decent — albeit tiny — step in the right direction.