The IRS reverses its unannounced home visit policy

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The Internal Revenue Service said Monday it is ending its decades-old policy of unannounced home and business visits, in an effort to help keep its workers safe and combat scammers posing as IRS agents.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that revenue agents will not make unplanned visits to taxpayer homes and businesses “except in a few unique circumstances,” effective immediately. Instead, the agency will mail letters to people to schedule meetings.

“Today’s announcement is the right thing to do, at the right time,” new IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel told reporters on a call Monday.

He said the change ends “an era in the IRS,” reversing the practice of revenue officers whose duties include visiting homes and businesses to settle taxpayer liabilities by collecting unpaid taxes and unrecorded tax returns.

In recent years the agency has faced more threats, in part related to conspiracy theories that the agents were targeting middle-income taxpayers more aggressively after the passage of the Climate, Medicare and Tax Acts provided $80 billion to increase tax collection.

In response, last August the agency announced a comprehensive safety review of its facilities. And in May, the agency said it would begin limiting workers’ personally identifiable information on contacts with taxpayers.

The Treasury Department’s Inspector General said in a report that it is “concerned that taxpayers and anti-government or anti-tax groups with malevolent intent may use the Internet or social media to track and locate IRS employees, their families, homes, and personal information to threaten, intimidate, or locate them for physical violence.”

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents IRS workers, praised the agency for ending the unannounced visits.

“The officers we represent will continue to efficiently and effectively carry out their mission to help taxpayers meet their statutory tax obligations through other means of communication,” union leader Tony Reardon said in an emailed statement.

The issue of home visits has been politically contentious this year.

Ohio House Republican Jim Jordan sent a letter to Werfel and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in March, asking why journalist Matt Taibey received an unannounced home visit from an IRS agent shortly after he testified on Capitol Hill regarding his research into the Twitter logs.

Werfel said he believes “the issues raised by the unannounced visits, including those raised by the US Congress, will be mitigated significantly” by the policy change.

The agency said an increase in scam artists posing as IRS agents has also created confusion about unannounced home visits.

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