From mid- to late-March, the Tax Court cancelled a number of pending cases amid safety concerns stemming from the growing threat of the COVID-19 epidemic. Despite defendants no longer having their expected day in court, the orders suggested that all involved parties try to resolve those cases. This week, the Internal Revenue Service announced a remote solution for taxpayers without legal representation: “Virtual Settlement Days.”
Previously, Settlement Days have been in-person, volunteer-hosted events that provide unrepresented taxpayers access to resources like free tax advice, legal representation, and settlement opportunities—usually resulting in a settlement. “Those who ended up with a liability have been able to enter into an installment payment arrangement,” the IRS explained, highlighting how these events have helped taxpayers address their tax bill.
What are Virtual Settlement Days?
Virtual Settlement Days are remote tax clinics hosted by volunteer tax advisors and IRS staff that provide unrepresented taxpayers access to free tax advice and resolution services via a teleconferencing application. By meeting over the Internet, taxpayers can continue to observe stay-at-home orders while dealing with their Tax Court case.
How will unrepresented taxpayers attend Virtual Settlement Days?
Virtual Settlement Days will use Cisco’s WebEx teleconferencing application to remotely connect taxpayers with volunteer tax advisors. WebEx, like other remote meeting platforms, requires that users create an account and learn how to join meetings. To help address the potential learning curve, Cisco has a series of written and video guides on its Help Center page.
When will the Virtual Settlement Days events begin?
While this program could expand access to Low Income Taxpayer Clinics, the rollout is limited to a select number of taxpayers whose cases were cancelled in Detroit, MI, and Atlanta, GA. Initially planned as one-day events—May 9 in Detroit and May 21 in Atlanta—the IRS noted that these first Virtual Settlement Days “may be extended, if needed, to meet taxpayers’ needs.”
How will taxpayers know if their case has been selected for a Virtual Settlement Days?
According to the press release, the IRS is sending invitations to eligible taxpayers. The agency will give preference to unrepresented taxpayers whose cases were recently cancelled by the Tax Court, but they said they will also invite those who do not yet have a trial scheduled.
How long will the IRS support the Virtual Settlement Days program?
Interestingly, the IRS had been considering the addition of teleconferencing to Settlement Days before social distancing policies were widely implemented in the US. The agency noted that Chief Counsel had included remote-meeting recommendations in the January 2020 Settlement Days Best Practices; the coronavirus simply underscored the immediate need. As such, “Chief Counsel anticipates that Virtual Settlement Days will be a mainstay of its Settlement Day efforts even after the crisis is over.”