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Findings Show IRS Notices Not Written in Plain English

October 21, 2014

The IRS has been advertising the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. It includes ten rights that taxpayers have when dealing with the IRS. Among those ten rights, the first right quoted by the IRS is The Right to Be Informed. This right, as quoted by the IRS, says that taxpayers “are entitled to clear explanations of the laws and IRS procedures in all tax forms, instructions, publications, notices, and correspondence.” However, the Treasury Inspector for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has found that the IRS is not complying with the Plain Writing Act of 2010. This act requires the IRS to make their correspondences easily understandable so that taxpayers can understand their tax obligations, IRS processes and their rights.

In its report, TIGTA says that “the process for reviewing letters and notices does not always ensure that they are written in plain language. Our evaluation of statistically valid samples of 18 letters and 38 notices that were revised or redesigned during Fiscal Year 2013 identified that nine (50 percent) of the letters and 25 (66 percent) of the notices are not clearly written and structured or do not provide sufficient information.”

It’s important to remember that English is not the first language of many U.S. taxpayers, so they may find it difficult to understand correspondences not written in plain English. Also, complex language can lead taxpayers to misunderstand the content of the communication, especially of IRS notices. Taxpayers with little education may also find it difficult to understand IRS communications if they are not written in plain language. Whatever the case, the IRS is expected to make every communication with taxpayers easily understandable.

As a corrective measure, TIGTA has recommended that the IRS ensure that its technical writers have sufficient formal training on the Federal Plain Language Guidelines. They also suggest that the managers’ quality review process includes confirming the revised letter or notice is checked for plain writing. The IRS has agreed to the recommendations and is expected to provide extensive on-the-job training to its writing staff, and review letters and notices for plain writing.

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