In an effort to protect the safety of its employees and combat con artists posing as IRS agents, the Internal Revenue Service announced on Monday that it is stopping its decades-old practice of making unannounced visits to homes and businesses.
Revenue officials will no longer make unannounced visits to taxpayers’ homes and businesses, “except in a few unique circumstances,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department. Instead, the organization will send letters to individuals in order to plan meetings.
“Today’s announcement is the right thing to do, at the right time,” said incoming IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel on a conference call with reporters on Monday.
The halting of unannounced visits to homes and businesses, Werfel said, marks the end of “an era at the IRS,” reversing a practice by revenue officers whose duties include visiting people’s homes and businesses to resolve issues by collecting unpaid taxes and unfiled tax returns.
Threats to the agency have increased in recent years due to the unannounced visits, in part due to conspiracy theories that agents would target middle-income taxpayers more aggressively following the passing of a climate, health care, and tax plan that included $80 billion to boost tax collections.
In response, the EPA launched last August a comprehensive review of safety at its facilities. In May, the agency said that it will begin limiting employees’ personal identifying information in correspondence with taxpayers.
The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration stated in a report that it was “concerned that taxpayers and anti-government or anti-tax groups with malevolent intent may use the Internet or social media to track down and identify IRS employees, their families, their homes, and personal information to threaten, intimidate, or locate them for physical violence.”
The National Treasury Personnel Union, which represents IRS personnel, applauded the government for discontinuing unannounced visits.
Union leader Tony Reardon said in an emailed statement that the officers they represent will continue to efficiently and effectively carry out their mission of helping taxpayers reach their lawful tax obligations through other ways of communication.
This year, the issue of unannounced visits to homes has been a political hot potato.
In March, Ohio House Republican Jim Jordan asked Werfel and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen why writer Matt Taibbi received an unannounced visit to his home from an IRS agent shortly after testifying on Capitol Hill about his study into Twitter records.
Werfel believes the policy change will “significantly mitigate the issues raised by unannounced visits, including those raised to us by Congress.”
According to the IRS, an increase in scam artists posing as IRS inspectors has also caused misunderstandings concerning unannounced house visits.