Renewing the Argument for a Taxpayer Representative's Bill of Rights

By Stevenson, William | The National Public Accountant, October 1999 | Go to article overview

Renewing the Argument for a Taxpayer Representative's Bill of Rights


Stevenson, William, The National Public Accountant


It is the duty of taxpayers' representatives to resolve their clients' problems and disputes with the Internal Revenue Service fairly and efficiently. While the IRS rightfully expects all representatives to adhere to the highest ethical standards, the practitioner community expects no less from the employees of the IRS.

Three years ago, as a member of the IRS Commissioner's Advisory Group and Chairman of NSA's Federal Taxation Committee, I invited input from the National Conference of CPA Practitioners (NCCPAP), the National Association of Enrolled Agents, and the National Association of Tax Practitioners to help develop the TRBoR concept. My goal was to present a united front to the Commissioner of the IRS. Once again, we invite everyone's participation in this most important concept. Everyone can benefit when taxpayers are fully assured that their Tax Representative is working within a well-defined relationship with the IRS.

The relationship between the taxpayer and the IRS is well defined, but despite the fact that a majority of returns are prepared by Taxpayer Representatives, this relationship - the one between agents of the IRS and preparers - is inadequately defined. A Taxpayer Representative's Bill of Rights is needed to better define the relationship between the IRS and the professional tax preparer. Taxpayers need to be assured that their representatives will be treated fairly and professionally by the IRS, and that the Service will quickly, fairly, and competently work with their representatives to resolve their problems. A TRBoR would educate the taxpaying public, and formalize the practical fact that the IRS welcomes the participation of competent and ethical representatives. By affirmatively defining the rights of representatives, the taxpayers will develop a greater degree of respect and confidence in the tax system.

In a criminal prosecution the accused enjoys many Constitutional rights such as the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and the assistance of counsel. In civil tax matters, Congress has provided taxpayers the right of consultation and representation before the IRS. When the IRS seeks further information from a taxpayer, the taxpayer need not appear in person but may instead send a professional representative. This right to consultation and representation is governed by Internal Revenue Code, [section] 7521.

Attorneys and certified public accountants licensed by the various states and territories and enrolled agents licensed by the federal government are permitted to represent taxpayers before the IRS. Persons permitted to represent taxpayers before the IRS are regulated by 31 CFR 10, commonly known as Treasury Department Circular 230. These regulations contain the rules governing the authority to practice, duties and restrictions relating to practice, and rules applicable to disciplinary proceedings. Circular 230 sets minimum standards of professional conduct and prohibitions. Circular 230 does not address the protocol of the IRS-Preparer relationship, or the procedure for establishing and maintaining such a relationship.

Taxpayer advocacy should be better understood by all the parties to a tax controversy. The IRS should publicize its acceptance and encouragement of the advocacy process within and without the agency. In many quarters, rightly or wrongly, people are afraid to retain representation because they believe the IRS will retaliate or come down harder if they enlist outside assistance. The public needs to enjoy the same confidence it does in the legal system where attorneys are expected to represent the parties involved. The TRBoR would provide this confidence.

Section 7521 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), which created the taxpayers right of consultation, should be expanded to establish and define this protocol. The Federal Taxation Committee of the National Society of Accountants recommends the following for consideration in its continuing effort to see [section] 7521 amended to include the TRBoR. …

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