Imagine being prosecuted for a crime you know nothing about. Instead of being informed of your offense, you’re immediately punished. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? In many cases dealing with tax problems, people are surprised to learn they’re in trouble because in their eyes, they’ve done nothing wrong.
Luckily there’s something called a Freedom of Information Request.
Introduced in the late 1960s, the Freedom of Information act gives every person the right to ask for information from the government. There are limits to what you can learn, however. For example, for tax problems specifically, you can ask for IRS tax records or information pertaining to you, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. Also, a 1996 amendment required several federal agencies to make some of their records available online.
Filing a Freedom of Information Request
Any taxpayer can file for such a request, but it must be done correctly. Unlike most official requests, there is no form for a Freedom of Information request. You simply send the request in writing, ensuring the proper documentation and relevant information is included. You may send the request by post, fax, or email.
For the IRS to process your request, be sure to include:
- A letter describing your issue
- What information you require
- Tax years during which you have identified the issue
- Any additional information that would help your case
A good Freedom of Information request:
- Is thoroughly fleshed out, with a proper description of what you want
- Asks for specific information, not just ‘any file’ pertaining to you
- Contains relevant information required, such as address, full name, identity proof, and any additional documentation
- Is descriptive, yet precise and to the point
- Mentions the statute(s) you are using in addition to your rights, so that it is taken seriously
- Has a valid reason for the request
As part of the act, the IRS is mandated by law to divulge information from a proper Freedom of Information request. However, it is exempt from divulging information about internal processes, law enforcement efforts, and matters of national security. The IRS must also, of course, uphold client-attorney confidentiality, not causing harm to other taxpayers. Despite these exemptions, the Freedom of Information act can help you gain vital information that could tip the scales in your favor. Understanding what the IRS knows about you will help with creating a more precise appeal, which could give you tax relief quickly.
Help from the Professionals
The request can be most beneficial if you think that the IRS has made a mistake or has been misinformed of your tax liability. If you seek the help of a tax professional, he or she will prepare an appeal for tax relief. In some cases, such as criminal tax problems and civil tax problems, a Freedom of Information request becomes much more difficult to file. In this case, help from certified tax professionals is advantageous. Furthermore, if the Freedom of Information request does not yield satisfactory results or if you think the IRS is not properly responding, you can file an administrative appeal to higher officials. In case this doesn’t prove fruitful either, you can file a judicial appeal. In both cases, professional help is advised.