Collection: Defenses and Remedies

AuthorW. Patrick Cantrell
Collection: Defenses and Remedies
Applications for Taxpayer Assistance Orders
I. General Information and Background
A. Statutory Authority
Taxpayers are authorized to file with the Taxpayer Advocate Service
(TAS) an application for a taxpayer assistance order (ATAO). The TAS
office was, prior to July 30, 1996, known as the Office of Ombudsman.1
The term “taxpayer advocate” (TA) also includes any designee of the
TA (typically, the TA caseworker in each major city).2
II. “Hardship” Issues
A. General Rule
For an application for an ATAO to succeed, the taxpayer must be “suf-
fering” or “about to suffer” a significant hardship as a result of the
manner in which the interna l revenue laws are being administered by
the IRS. 3 This determination of hardship is required to be made by the
TA prior to the issuance of a TAO.4
B. Definition of Hardship
1. The term “significant hardship” means a serious privation; it
does not include mere economic or personal inconvenience to the
2. Significant hardship is a subjective determination and is to be
made on a case-by-case basis. IRS employees have been advised to
use good judgment and not to let personal values or opinions bias
their determinations. The following factors are to be considered:
a. The imminence of the hardship;
b. The taxpayer’s ability to retain housing, utilities, or employment;
c. The taxpayer’s ability to obtain food, clothing, or medical
d. The chance of irreparable damage to the taxpayer’s credit
e. The likelihood of serious financial hardship, such as inability
to meet payroll or an imminent bankruptcy;
f. Loss of education to the taxpayer or his or her family; and
g. The taxpayer’s physical or mental state as a result of his or
her tax situation, as demonstrated by depression, despair, or
threat of personal harm.
All doubts concerning the existence and extent of the hardship are
to be resolved in favor of the taxpayer.6
3. TA case workers can decide that hardship exists, but only the TA
can decide that hardship does not exist.7
4. If a taxpayer is simply getting tax due notices, this is not
considered a threat of hardship sufficient to require the filing of
an ATAO.8
5. Moreover, enforcement action (levies, etc.), in and of itself, is not
a significant hardship without additional factors being present.9
III. Relief
A. The TAO (following the filing of an ATAO), if issued, may require the
IRS to do one of the following things:
Release any property levied on or10
Cease taking any other collection action.11
B. A finding of signif icant hardship by the TA will not always result
in the granting of the relief requested. The TA will also look at the
behavior of the taxpayer and action or inaction of the IRS that is
causing the hardship.12
C. Timing of Response by the TA’s Office
The TAs office is required to notify the taxpayer and complete certain
action within prescribed time limits.13 The TAs office should complete
its review of the ATAO and come to a decision within two work-days
of receipt of the ATAO.14
IV. Form 911 Procedures
A. The application for a TAO should be made on a Form 911 or in a
written statement containing the following information:
1. Name and Social Security number of the taxpayer;
2. The kind of tax involved;
3. A description of IRS action causing the hardship;
4. A description of the specific hardship; and
5. The signature of the taxpayer or his or her representative.15
Other Miscellaneous Rules 313
B. Place of Filing
ATAOs (911s) should be filed with the Taxpayer Advocate Office of the
IRS where the taxpayer resides.16 If other field or office employees of
the IRS receive the ATAO, they are to be immediately forwarded to the
TAs office for handling.17
C. Timing of Filing
An ATAO should be submitted within a reasonable time after the tax-
payer becomes aware of the significant hardship or the potential sig-
nificant hardship.18
D. Alternative Ways to File
Although the Form 911 is the preferred way to file an ATAO, one can
always file by means of a letter or a telephone call. Actually, the fastest
way to file is to fill out the 911 form and then fax it to the local TAS
V. Statute of Limitations Issues
A. General Rule
The collection statute of limitations19 is suspended during the follow-
ing per iod:
Start date: date of application for TAO
End date: date of TA’s decision on the application
The collection statutory period is also suspended for any period
specified by the TA in the issued TAO.20
B. Unilateral Action by the TA
The statute of limitations is not suspended if the TA acts on his or her
own without an application being filed by the taxpayer.21
C. “Decision” Date
For statute of limitations purposes, the decision date is the date on
which the TA makes a decision with respect to the application.
D. Written Explanation Required
If the statute of limitations is extended, the taxpayer must be given a
written response from the TA explaining which statute was extended,
why it was extended, and for how long.22
VI. Other Miscellaneous Rules
A. Rescission
Once issued, a TAO can only be rescinded by the TA or by the IRS com-
missioner (or his or her deputy).23

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