13.1.6  Casework Communications

Manual Transmittal

October 17, 2014

Purpose

(1) This transmits revised IRM 13.1.6, Taxpayer Advocate Case Procedures, Casework Communications.

Material Changes

(1) This update is to revise IRM 13.1.6.7 to change Caution to paragraph (8)

Effect on Other Documents

IRM 13.1.6 dated June 13, 2014 is superseded.

Audience

Primarily Taxpayer Advocate Service and all Operating Divisions and Functions.

Effective Date

(10-17-2014)

Signed by Nina E. Olson, National Taxpayer Advocate.

13.1.6.1  (08-21-2000)
Introduction

  1. Words and the way they are used send a powerful message. You must know how to use language to convey an attitude of customer service. You must be an excellent communicator, both orally and with the written word. You have to know how to use your words and voice to make customers feel you value them and want to help. You may not always be aware of the impact of what you say and how you say it. This is especially true on the phone, where you can't see the customer's reaction; but your communication skills can have a big impact on what taxpayers think of you and the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).

13.1.6.2  (10-31-2004)
Oral Communication

  1. TELEPHONE: In every initial contact with the taxpayer you are required to furnish the following:

    • Name

    • Job title

    • Office address

    • Office telephone number

    • Available office hours

    • Employee number

    • Apology

    • Notification of inclusion in the Taxpayer Advocate Service

    • TAS statement of independence

  2. The purpose of the contact should be to:

    • Restate and clarify any questions you have regarding the problem identified on the Form 911 or correspondence

    • Request any additional information needed

    • Discuss any remedy or solution to the problem

    • Provide an estimated completion date (ECD) and/or next contact date (NCD)

    • Verify taxpayer authentication per IRM 13.1.10.3, Disclosure Issues and Taxpayer Authentication

    • If payments or a math error are issues on an original return, check Practitioner Tax Identification Number Query (PTINQ) to see if the taxpayer checked the box regarding a third party contact.

    • If taxpayer has a valid POA on file, check CAF File Identification Number Query (CFINQ) for authorizations. If Power of Attorney (POA) is authorized, contact POA initially.

13.1.6.2.1  (08-21-2000)
Tips for Oral Communication

  1. Speak the language of the customer:

    • Be polite to everyone

    • Emphasize the positive; avoid the negative

    • Ask, don't tell

    • Don't make a customer feel ignorant or troublesome

    • Be empathetic

    • Don't blame or criticize customers

    • Be polite even when a customer may be wrong or makes a mistake

    • Recognize that the customer may be frustrated, angry, or scared

  2. A good example of how to put taxpayers at ease:

    "There are lots of options we may use to try to resolve your tax situation. I know working with the IRS is very stressful. If you have any questions while we are talking, don't be afraid to ask me."

    • Try to hear yourself as a customer hears you

    • Speak slowly, distinctly, and enunciate your words clearly

    • Listen carefully to what the customer is saying

    • Restate the customer's issue in your own words to ensure complete understanding

13.1.6.3  (04-01-2003)
Face to Face Contact

  1. When meeting customers face to face, there are several important things to keep in mind.

    • Greet them warmly, professionally, and put them at ease

    • Maintain eye contact

    • Maintain good body language (don't act bored, uninterested, or superior)

    • Dress professionally

    • Verify taxpayer's identification before discussing tax information protected by IRC § 6103.

13.1.6.4  (04-01-2003)
Written Communication

  1. While the majority of your contacts with others will be oral, sometimes written communication is necessary to:

    • Send promised information;

    • Confirm agreed upon issues between you and the customer; or

    • Meet procedural or statutory requirements.

  2. Written communication to internal customers (employees within TAS or IRS) may also be necessary. Refer to IRM 13.6.1, Internal Communication for additional information on TAS internal communication procedures.

  3. An effective business letter has strength and sincerity which is achieved through proper wording and tone.

  4. For effective and professional business writing, you need to develop a courteous tone that is business like, but still:

    • Polite;

    • Friendly;

    • Sincere; and

    • Human.

  5. To get results, you must make the message:

    DIRECT 1. Always begin with an explanation of why you are writing the letter.

    Example:

    This is in response to your correspondence dated XXXXXX, ___referred to our office by_____. You expressed concern regarding (List each issue briefly in the same order as the taxpayer's inquiry).

    CLEAR 1. Respond to each issue the customer has raised in the order it is listed in the introductory paragraph.
    2. Write one paragraph per issue.
    3. Write as you would speak.
    4. Provide the taxpayer with the answer, then explain the rationale.
    5. Use the active voice not the passive voice.
    Example of Passive voice: My office is responsible for reviewing and monitoring correspondence.
    Example of Active voice: My office reviews and monitors correspondence.
    6. Create a positive tone.
    Example of Negative Tone: Don't hesitate to call me if you have questions.
    Example of Positive Tone: Please call me if you have questions.
    7. Use bullets, lists or headings on complex, technical information.
    COMPLETE 1. The message should include all necessary information.
    2. You can achieve brevity in content by omitting needless words.
    Examples:
    Instead of:Use
    in order toto
    for the purpose of for
    enclosed you will findenclosed is
    3. Write so the reader can understand your letter, the first time it is read.
    4. Avoid using specialized terms.
    Examples:
    Instead ofUse
    accordinglyso
    demonstrateshow
    pursuant to under
    5. Be specific, use concrete words, not vague and abstract ones.
    Example of vague : We will process your application shortly.
    Example of specific: We will process your application by MM/DD/YYYY.
  6. Clearly state what will happen next.

    • Let the customer know what to do (e.g., sign and return a form)

    • Let the customer know what to expect (e.g., when an item will be mailed)

  7. Let the customer know what you'll do (such as monitor the account to be sure the disputed balance is cleared).

  8. TAS has specific requirements which need to be incorporated in letters sent by our employees, including the fact that they should be issued on TAS letterhead stationary. "Quick notes" are not acceptable. If sending a letter, other than a TAS pattern letter, as listed in the exhibit of this section, ensure all required TAS information is listed in the body of the letter.

13.1.6.4.1  (06-13-2013)
Social Security Number (SSN) Elimination and Reduction Plan

  1. Safeguarding Against and Responding to the Breach of Personally Identifiable Information, includes a requirement to eliminate unnecessary use of SSNs. TAS has established that there is a necessary and legitimate business need to include SSNs within TAMIS. However, most correspondence generated by TAS to taxpayers does not require inclusion of a SSN by any authority. See Servicewide Memorandum OMB M-07-16, Safeguarding Against and Responding to the Breach of Personally Identifiable Information.

  2. TAS employees must not use the SSN on taxpayer correspondence unless the employee needs to identify the account to the recipient. If the SSN must be included, TAS will use only the last two digits whenever possible. There may be times when use of the full SSN is necessary, but this should be decided on a case-by-case basis after consultation with management.

  3. In cases where SSNs are necessary for the business process, it may be acceptable to truncate, and truncation to the last two numbers is better than the last four. TAS has updated the pattern letters available through the TAS website to remove space for the TIN.

    Note:

    The Integrated Automation Technologies (IAT) tool is programmed to create TAS letters with an established place for a truncated SSN, containing only the last four digits. When generating letters using this tool, completely remove the SSN line from the letter once it converts to a Microsoft Word format unless, as indicated above, there is a need to identify the taxpayer.

13.1.6.4.2  (04-01-2003)
TAS Pattern Letters

  1. TAS pattern letters are located on the TAS Web site.

  2. Before initiating correspondence, check CFINQ to ensure authorized representatives receive copies of correspondence or requests for documentation. Refer to IRM 13.1.10.3.1, Power of Attorney and Other Representatives.

  3. It is mandatory to document TAMIS, if you issue a TAS letter.

13.1.6.4.2.1  (10-31-2004)
Specialized TAS Letters

  1. TAS letters have been developed to include specific mandatory statements and explanations on certain issues. TAS letters must include the TAS logo, office name and address, case advocate's name, telephone number, employee number and hours available.

  2. The independence statement must be included in the initial contact. Refer to IRM 13.1.2.4, RRA98 §1102(a)/IRC §7803(c) Inform Taxpayer of Taxpayer Advocate Service Independence.

13.1.6.4.2.1.1  (04-01-2003)
TAS Refund in Error; Return Check Letter (510 TAS Letter)

  1. A 510 TAS Letter is required to be issued when you determine a refund has been issued in error. The letter informs the taxpayer a refund check was issued in error and explains the requirement of any necessary repayment of interest.

  2. The 510 TAS Letter can be signed by a case advocate.

  3. Refer to TAS Refund in Error; Return Check Letter (510 TAS Letter) located on the TAS Web site.

13.1.6.4.2.1.2  (04-01-2003)
TAS Installment Agreement Letter (3217 TAS Letter)

  1. A 3217 TAS Letter is required to be issued when you grant, or partially grant, an Installment Agreement. The letter explains the terms and conditions of an installment agreement.

  2. The 3217 TAS Letter can be signed by a case advocate.

  3. Refer to TAS Installment Agreement Letter (3217 TAS Letter) located on the TAS Web site.

13.1.6.5  (04-01-2003)
Apology

  1. Just saying TAS is sorry for any inconvenience it has caused is not a sincere apology. State why we are apologizing. Acknowledging the problem validates the taxpayer's issue. Listed below are examples of appropriate apologies:

    1. First, let me apologize for any (actions taken/delays) that added to your frustration and anger. In reviewing your (file/correspondence/situation), it appears the Internal Revenue Service could, and should, have done a better job.

    2. I regret that your contact with some Internal Revenue Service representatives has left you with an unfavorable impression. I assure you that the Taxpayer Advocate Service is committed to ensuring the IRS provides courteous, quality service to all customers.

    3. The IRS's intent at all times is to secure the proper amount of tax due in the least frustrating manner as possible. I do, however, express regret that the process of reaching a final tax determination was disconcerting to you.

13.1.6.6  (06-13-2013)
Telephone Listings & TAS Answering Machines

  1. There has been much discussion regarding the need to increase the public's awareness of and access to TAS.

    1. In order to assist in accomplishing this task, Congress requested that local telephone directories list local TAS telephone numbers.

  2. The Taxpayer Advocate is responsible for listing all TAS local telephone numbers in local telephone directories.

    1. The local telephone number for the Taxpayer Advocate will be listed after the 1-877-777-4778 National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) toll-free number.

  3. This will give taxpayers the option of free service through the NTA toll-free telephone number or a possible toll charge to reach the LTA listed telephone number.

  4. Routine use of answering machines is not acceptable as a usual solution for answering the telephones in TAS offices. In addition, standard language for answering machines should not refer the call to the NTA toll-free number. The following are established guidelines on TAS telephone answering:

    1. LTAs will designate a member or members of their staff to answer telephone calls.

    2. LTAs may forward telephone calls to voice mail/answering machines for short periods of time if no one is available to answer the telephone.

    3. There shall be no instances when all calls to the LTA office are routed to voice mail/answering machines as normal office procedure.

    4. Exhibit 13.1.6-1 Standardized Voice Messages for Local Taxpayer Advocates gives two examples of standardized messages intended for use by LTA offices. Telephone system capabilities and functionality vary dramatically throughout the country, therefore, LTA offices may have to deviate from the examples provided to accommodate system features, but should adhere to these general guidelines.

13.1.6.7  (10-17-2014)
Leaving Messages on Answering Machines

  1. Generally, no tax information protected by IRC § 6103 may be left on an answering machine or voice mail.

  2. In order for a TAS employee to leave tax information on a taxpayer’s answering machine or voicemail, the taxpayer must agree to allow TAS to leave that information. Taxpayers can note their agreement by checking box 9b on Form 911.

  3. It is acceptable to leave information specifically agreed to by the taxpayer if:

    • The taxpayer submitted Form 911, checked box 9b and signed the form;

    • The taxpayer consents to allow TAS to leave confidential information at the phone number provided;

      Note:

      the taxpayer can provide oral consent to allow the case advocate to leave confidential information on the taxpayer’s answering machine or voicemail. The case advocate must document this conversation in TAMIS before leaving confidential information at the taxpayer’s phone number.

    • There has been positive identification of the number reached by the TAS employee;

    • The taxpayer has specifically requested that information be left on the answering machine or voice mail;

    • The taxpayer can agree to have his or her tax information left at the phone number even if other individuals have access to it.

      Note:

      TAS must inform the taxpayer he or she is under no obligation to have messages left on his or her answering machine or voicemail.

  4. If the taxpayer contacted the NTA Toll-Free line and gives permission to leave a message on an answering machine or voicemail, the assistor will document the taxpayer’s decision in TAMIS. The assistors’ script also will require the assistors to advise the taxpayers they should not agree if other individuals have access to messages and the taxpayers do not want those individuals to receive the confidential information.

  5. When leaving messages, follow procedures found in IRM 11.3.2.6.1, Leaving Information on Answering Machines/Voice Mail. Follow procedures in paragraph (3) below in situations other than conditions explained in paragraph (1) above and in IRM 11.3.2.6.1. In situations where the conditions explained in (1) above and in IRM 11.3.2.6.1(2) paragraph (c) are not met, where the telephone number reached is verified or authenticated as that of the taxpayer, only leave the following information:

    • Your name and ID number;

    • That you are with TAS;

    • That you are calling in response to the taxpayer's inquiry on (date);

    • Your telephone number;

    • The name of the person who should return the call.

  6. If a taxpayer has agreed to TAS leaving tax information on an answering machine or voicemail, TAS employees must have a “reasonable belief” they have reached the correct cell phone or telephone number for the taxpayer before leaving any confidential information. In accordance with IRM 11.3.2.6.1, Leaving Information on Answering Machines/Voice Mail, “reasonable belief” is met when the greeting on the answering machine or voicemail refers to the taxpayer being contacted, or the greeting refers to the phone number the taxpayer had provided to TAS.

  7. However, per IRM 11.3.2.6.1, Leaving Information on Answering Machines/Voice Mail, where the number reached cannot be positively verified or authenticated as that of the taxpayer, do not leave the taxpayer's name in the message. Only leave the following information:

    • Your name and ID number;

    • That you are with TAS;

    • That you are calling in response to the taxpayer's inquiry on (date);

    • Your telephone number;

    • State that an inquiry was received by the TAS office from an individual at that telephone number, and ask for a return call.

  8. Case advocates cannot leave tax information on the answering machine or voicemail of the taxpayer's authorized representative even if the representative asks them to do so. The case advocate will not know whether anyone besides the representative has access to that answering machine or voicemail. The case advocate should simply leave a message with his or her name and the case file number, and asking for a call back from the representative.

  9. Document your case file activity record or TAMIS history addressing all messages left, the taxpayer's verbal approval as outlined in (1) above, and the identification on the answering machine.

    Note:

    Caution should be taken in leaving answering machine messages involving domestic violence situations or innocent spouse issues.

    Note:

    When calling other IRS employees, and leaving information on your internal voice mail system, do not leave confidential information. You may, however, leave non confidential information on the system such as "call me regarding the TAMIS case number XXXXXXX" , or similar language. See IRM 25.10.1.7.12, Information Technology (IT) Security Policy and Standards, for additional information.

13.1.6.8  (06-13-2013)
Disclosure Issues - Cell Phones and Cordless Devices

  1. Per IRM 11.3.2.6.2, Use of Cell Phones and Cordless Devices , for taxpayer initiated contacts, the Service is under no obligation to determine if the caller is using an unsecure platform such as cordless device. Whatever dialogue is necessary, including the disclosure of sensitive but unclassified (SBU) data, is authorized based on the fact the caller has accepted any security vulnerability by contacting IRS using a cordless device. If the IRS employee knows that the incoming call is on a cordless device, the IRS employee should ask the caller if it is permissible to discuss SBU data considering the communication methodology in use. Such permission should be documented whenever appropriate (i.e., other documentation such as history notes are already being kept).

  2. Per IRM 11.3.2.6.2, Use of Cell Phones and Cordless Devices , service employees may use a cordless device to contact taxpayers/customers but no SBU information should be disclosed unless the person IRS is contacting agrees to IRS use of the cordless. The taxpayer should also be advised that his/her agreement to use a cordless device is voluntary and that a decision against using the device will have no detrimental effect on the handling of their issue. If the taxpayer does not agree to cordless use, the IRS employee should offer the taxpayer the option of rescheduling the conversation until a more secure "land" line can be used. Such agreement should be documented whenever appropriate.

  3. Classified information should never be discussed over a cell phone or cordless device.

Exhibit 13.1.6-1 
Standardized Voice Messages for Local Taxpayer Advocates

This image is too large to be displayed in the current screen. Please click the link to view the image.

More Internal Revenue Manual