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IRS Appeals wants public comment on video conferencing

A lot of people are, as the catch phrase says, done with COVID. They've returned to the office, sent their youngsters to classrooms, and are spending free time at events filled with other people.

But there's still something to be said for remote connections.

Or at least that's the thinking of the Internal Revenue Service's Independent Office of Appeals.

COVID prompted, but liked: During the height of the coronavirus in 2020-21, IRS Appeals expanded access to video conferences. Taxpayers were able to make their cases remotely, visually sharing documents without going in person to an IRS office.

Appeals says the online option was well-received by both taxpayers and tax professionals.

So even though the IRS this summer resumed in-office interactions with taxpayers, Appeals says virtual meetings will remain for taxpayers who prefer that method.

To ensure continued success of the virtual meetings, IRS Appeals is asking for public input on best practices for conducting video conferences.

Going from interim to permanent guidance: In March 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Appeals issued interim video conference guidance.

That temporary directive details IRS Appeals employee responsibilities for scheduling and conducting the video conference, procedures for verifying authorized participants, and necessary technology prerequisites. It also makes basic recommendations for establishing a professional meeting environment.

Now Appeals is preparing to update the Internal Revenue Manual with permanent guidelines for conducting video conferences, as well as update video conferencing platform technology.

To ensure those tasks are completed in the most-effective way possible for taxpayers, their representatives, and the IRS, Appeals is asking for public input on how video conference technology can best be used in a taxpayer's appeal.

Video starting point: The Appeals Office already has heard from some taxpayers and tax professionals about what should be done here. The common themes for video conferencing include —

  • When managed effectively, video conferences can often provide a better taxpayer experience than a telephone conference. Some taxpayers feel they’re better able to present their case.
  • The role of the Appeals employee leading the conference is critical. That employee should ensure every participant is introduced and participants turn on their cameras.
  • Video conferences that allow for screen sharing of documents can lead to a more comprehensive discussion of the issues and, potentially, earlier resolution for the taxpayer.
  • Taxpayers for whom video conferencing technology is a challenge should not be disadvantaged by their inability to participate in an Appeals conference by video. Appeals should endeavor to keep technical requirements for video conferences to a minimum and ensure other channels for conducting an Appeals conference (such as in person or by telephone) remain available for these taxpayers.

If you want to add your support for those suggestions, or offer other recommendations on IRS policies for conducting video conferences with taxpayers, email them to [email protected]. The comment deadline is Wednesday, Nov. 16.

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