IRS says agents will no longer knock on taxpayers’ doors unannounced

Internal Revenue Service agents will no longer make unannounced visits to taxpayers’ homes, the agency said Monday, in a policy shift meant to protect employees’ safety due to the fear of potentially irate taxpayers answering the door.

Since at least the 1950s, revenue agents have knocked on tens of thousands of taxpayers’ doors each year, according to agency staff. The new policy will reduce these visits to no more than a few hundred per year, and only under unusual circumstances.

Instead of making house calls to taxpayers who have ignored overdue tax notices in the mail, the agency will send letters that instruct taxpayers to schedule a visit with a revenue officer, it explained.

“This is the right thing to do and the right time to end it,” IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a statement. “We have the tools we need to successfully collect revenue without adding stress with unannounced visits.”

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The agency said it would only send officers unannounced in unusual circumstances, such as cases where the delinquent taxpayer might hide money “beyond the reach of the government” and agents were planning to seize assets.

Safety concerns have long dogged the door-knockers. More than 30 years ago, the IRS said agents were assaulted hundreds of times in a year, making them the most-attacked federal law enforcement officers. It even told them they could use fake names for their own protection.

But recent rhetoric from Republicans opposed to last year’s increase in IRS funding has raised more concerns about agents showing up announced on citizens’ doorsteps. While the revenue agents who historically did the door-knocking never carried guns, some Republicans have falsely claimed the agency was spending billions to hire thousands of gun-toting officers to collect people’s taxes.

IRS officials said that the funding to hire more revenue agents would be on the order of hundreds of workers, not tens of thousands, and it will instead enable agents to better identify and contact taxpayers who owe significant debts without resorting to in-person visits. Last week, the agency boasted that its growing workforce collected $38 million in tax debts from just 175 high-income taxpayers in recent months, by focusing on high earners known to have not paid their taxes.

The agency has also vowed to update its computer systems so that tax data in the future can be analyzed by artificial intelligence. The upgrades should help flag tax cheats in a more sophisticated manner than random audits.

Ending the door-knocking practice will help recruit tax experts to work for the agency, IRS staff predicted.

“These are some of the hardest jobs in government. … There is a better way of doing it,” IRS spokesman Terry Lemons said. “Another advantage is that if people have a greater sense of safety and security, that will help us bring good people in to the agency.”

The union representing IRS employees pushed for the change.

“The safety of IRS employees is of paramount importance and this decision will help protect those whose jobs have only grown more dangerous in recent years because of false, inflammatory rhetoric about the agency and its workforce,” National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon said in a statement.

Werfel also noted that scam artists have knocked on doors falsely claiming to be IRS agents — a fraud that should be easier to detect under the new policy.

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