The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, noted that the Tax Code imposes penalties on taxpayers with a filing requirement who fail to file a tax return or fail to timely pay the full tax shown on any tax return. The IRS waives those penalties for taxpayers who have demonstrated full compliance over the prior three years, but only if the taxpayers request penalty relief. The IRS does not widely publicize the opportunity to request this waiver, known as a First-Time Abate.
The reason for granting the First-Time Abate is to reward past tax compliance and promote future tax compliance. However, most taxpayers with compliant tax histories are not offered and do not receive the waiver, TIGTA found. For tax year 2010, TIGTA estimated that approximately 250,000 taxpayers with failure-to-file penalties and 1.2 million taxpayers with failure-to-pay penalties did not receive penalty relief even though they qualified under First-Time Abate waiver criteria. TIGTA estimated the unabated penalties totaled more than $181 million.
In addition, TIGTA found that the First-Time Abate waiver is not used to its full potential as a compliance tool because when it is granted, it is granted before taxpayers demonstrate full compliance by paying their current tax liability.
TIGTA suggested that the First-Time Abate waiver would be better used as a compliance tool if the IRS ensured that taxpayers were aware of the potential to receive the waiver based on their past compliance history, while making receipt of the waiver contingent upon taxpayers paying their current tax liabilities.
In response to the report, IRS officials agreed with the recommendations and said they are taking appropriate corrective actions. The IRS plans to study how best to use the First-Time Abate waiver as a compliance tool. It also intends to review the current process for application of an FTA waiver prior to reasonable cause and its impact on taxpayers who qualify for reasonable cause, but instead are given an FTA waiver.