Federal tax law provides for an office within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) known as the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate. This office, headed by the National Taxpayer Advocate, assists taxpayers in resolving their income tax problems with the IRS. The National Taxpayer Advocate has the authority to issue something called a "taxpayer assistance order" to alleviate certain hardships that the IRS imposes on a taxpayer.

When Can a Taxpayer Assistance Order Be Issued?

The National Taxpayer Advocate may issue a taxpayer assistance order when a taxpayer is suffering or is about to suffer significant hardship as a result of the IRS’s actions. Mere economic or personal inconvenience to the taxpayer usually does not constitute significant hardship. In determining whether a taxpayer has significant hardship, the Advocate looks at the following four factors:

  1. Whether there is an immediate threat of adverse action from the IRS;
  2. Whether there has been a delay of more than 30 days in resolving the taxpayer’s problems; 
  3. Whether the taxpayer will have to pay significant costs if relief is not granted; and
  4. Whether the taxpayer will suffer irreparable injury, or a long-term adverse impact, if relief is not granted.

What Does a Taxpayer Assistance Order Do?

A taxpayer assistance order may be issued to force the IRS to:

  • Release the taxpayer’s property from a tax lien;
  • Cease collection actions on the taxpayer; or
  • Reissue a lost refund check.

Can an Order Be Issued against a Private Debt Collection Agency?

Yes, so long as the IRS has contracted the private debt collection agency to collect on its behalf. Once a taxpayer assistance order has been issued, it will apply to both the IRS and to any private debt collection agencies working under a contract with the IRS.

Will I Need a Tax Attorney for an Appeal?

The tax appeals process can be very complex. You may wish to have a tax attorney to guide you through the appeals process and let you know what your rights and potential defenses are. In the case that your appeal makes it all the way to the U.S. District Court, you will almost certainly want a tax lawyer to represent you, as various federal rules of procedure come into play and make the proceedings even more complex.