IRS’s digital platforms tax users searching for in-person assistance

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The tax agency's watchdog said the functionality of the agency’s website and mobile app make it difficult for Americans to find information on taxpayer assistance centers.

The IRS needs to improve the search functionality of its digital platforms and ensure that it is providing up-to-date information so Americans can easily access in-person tax assistance centers, according to a report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration — or TIGTA — on July 31. 

The watchdog found that taxpayers “may experience difficulty in obtaining key contact information” for the agency’s taxpayer assistance centers — or TACs — including on the IRS’s website and on its IRS2Go mobile app. This included “inconsistencies and inaccuracies” regarding the services offered by specific TACs, as well as broader search functionality and accessibility issues when it came to locating relevant information on the IRS’s platforms.

The report noted that the IRS website provides taxpayers with information on contacting their local IRS offices — including a tool to help them locate nearby TACs — but that “our review found no link or guidance directing taxpayers to the ‘Contact Your Local IRS Office’ prominently displayed on the homepage.”

TIGTA found that the agency’s lack of streamlined access to information on TACs was a sitewide problem, with the report noting that “the search feature on the IRS’s website did not always provide any relevant references or links when we attempted to find information on the TACs.”

“For instance, when we performed a search using the term ‘taxpayer assistance center,’ no link to the ‘Contact Your Local IRS Office’ page appeared in the top ten results,” the report said.

Similar accessibility issues were encountered when using the agency’s mobile app, with the watchdog finding that “information regarding the TACs is not located under the ‘Free Tax Help’ icon in the mobile app.”

When taxpayers were able to navigate to the ‘‘Contact Your Local IRS Office’ page, TIGTA said that TAC-related information was not easy to locate and did not always include accurate contact information or service hours. 

The IRS announced in February that TACs would offer special Saturday hours “with no appointment required” for a four-month period to help taxpayers receive face-to-face assistance with filing their tax returns. The watchdog said, however, that it could not find any information on the Saturday hours on the agency’s ‘Contact Your Local IRS Office’ page, “nor was the information included when accessing information about individual TACs on the IRS’s website or the IRS2Go mobile App.”

While TIGTA noted that the IRS “has a link” detailing the Saturday hours at nationwide TACs, it said it was “not conveniently located” and that “a taxpayer searching for this information must scroll down on the web page to the ‘News & Announcements’ section to find this information.”

Although federal guidance requires agencies to ensure that their services are accessible to “Limited English Proficiency” persons, the watchdog also found that taxpayers visiting the IRS’s website cannot view TAC-related information in Spanish, despite the site providing users with the option to view content in one of seven languages. 

TIGTA made 10 recommendations to IRS, including calling for the agency to update its digital services “to prominently display a link to the TAC information,” improve the search functionality of its platforms and update its website to provide TAC-related information in Spanish.