On July 24, 2023, the IRS announced a major policy change, ending the decades-long practice of IRS revenue officers making unannounced visits to taxpayers’ homes and businesses. The surprise visits will be replaced with mailed letters to schedule face-to-face meetings. If a taxpayer does not respond to remote IRS contacts, levies or liens can be imposed remotely. This significant shift in IRS policy aims, among other goals, to avoid repeated meetings by ensuring that taxpayers are prepared before discussions with IRS representatives.
IRS Commissioner Werfel announced that this sweeping change in IRS policy addresses, on one hand, growing reports of IRS employees feeling unsafe during home and business visits, and, on the other hand, taxpayers’ concerns about how to distinguish between genuine IRS representatives and scam artists impersonating IRS officers.
IRS revenue officers, who are generally not accountants, collect delinquent taxes and address unfiled tax returns. Their work includes deciding whether to accept payment plans, partial payment, or offers in compromise, and issuing levies and liens. This contrasts with IRS revenue agents, who have training in accountancy and focus on auditing tax returns. IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel explained that the agency’s move to end almost all surprise revenue officer visits is in line with the policy for revenue agents, who do not make unannounced visits.
Very limited exceptions to the new no-surprise-visits policy allow revenue officers to serve summonses and subpoenas, and engage in “sensitive” enforcement work that involves seizing assets, particularly when those assets could be placed beyond the government’s reach. These exceptions, however, represent a negligible fraction of the tens of thousands of annual surprise visits under prior IRS policy.
Reactions of Congresspeople to the policy change have been mixed. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, welcomed the change, stating: “We expect the IRS to take corrective action where necessary to ensure the agency works for taxpayers, rather than against them.” Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Jason Smith, R-Missouri, was less satisfied, seeking a more complete explanation for the change in IRS policy because: “The agency has yet to provide a full explanation for why it used such disturbing tactics to show up on people’s doorstep and invade their privacy.”
The recent policy change will not affect the IRS Criminal Investigation Division (CI), the agency’s law enforcement arm. CI special agents handle cases involving tax fraud, money laundering, and other serious financial crimes, and routinely arrive unannounced at taxpayers’ homes and places of business.