Problems with the Internal Revenue Service’s handling of the Employee Retention Tax Credit took center stage before a House committee hearing, with tax professionals airing issues they have experienced and ongoing concerns they have.
Testifying at a July 28, 2023, hearing of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, Larry Gray, partner at AGC CPA, said that as the pandemic started and he started to make educational YouTube videos to help other practitioners navigate the tax law, he found issues with the ERTC, including the growing industry of ERTC mills and the potential for fraud that comes with them.
He noted that many of these mills are simply taking their fee for providing essentially clerical assistance. However, Gray noted that in these ERTC mills, the agreements stated that“they don’t do audit,” but they might be able to help find someone of a business does get audited because of the ERTC filing. And unfortunately, as was discussed throughout the hearing, people are falling for these ERTC mills and putting their businesses at risk.
And Gray put the problems that have arisen squarely on the IRS.
“We are getting no guidance,” Gray said. “There should have been an ERTC implementation team to coordinate from the top down. We need education. We need guidance.”
To that end, the IRS did issue a legal advice memorandum on July 20, 2023, that shows the application of the statutory requirements of the ERTC across five different scenarios.
Gray also took a subtle dig at Congress, acknowledging in his testimony that part of the issues could be related to an IRS that was “understaffed, and they were underfunded” when the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago.
Roger Harris, President of accounting and tax firm Padgett Advisors, also highlighted issues, starting with the first which was “how we submitted claims to the IRS,” which was exclusively on paper at a time when no one was present to handle the processing of paper correspondence because of the pandemic, creating a significant backlog.
“And it’s still ongoing,” he continued, causing a “delay in getting the money out to the people who need it.”
And with all the moving parts related to potential people who need to amend returns depending on how the business is structured, a mistake in any of these forms could be generating penalties and interest, a problem that is magnified when combined with Gray’s observation of the lack of available guidance to help taxpayers who are trying to do the right thing and collect money they are legitimately owed.
Ahead of the subcommittee hearing, the IRS announced in a July 26, 2023, statement that it received more than 2.5 million claims since the ERTC program began and it has “made substantial progress on these claims this year, with 99 percent of claims approximately three-months old as of mid-July.”
However, throughout the hearing, witnesses and committee members questioned the integrity of that figure, noting that IRS has changed numbers on its website as to how many claims remain in the backlog. There also were question on how the figure itself is determined.
Harris also pointed out the problems the ERTC mills are causing with his business and for other tax professionals looking to do the right thing by their clients.
“We have had clients that we have dealt with for many years who have trusted our advice,” Harris testified. “But all of a sudden when someone is telling them, ‘Your advisor doesn’t know what they are doing, and if you listen to me, I can give you a half million dollars,’ it’s very hard for as the people who are working with these small businesses to win that argument, in many instances, just because of the sheer amount of money that is being dangled in front of them.”
Harris continued: “And as we have heard, the IRS has no choice but to begin enforcement actions to try and correct this.”
He said he is asking the IRS “for some help [with] a real-world solution to give us the ability to try to bring these people back into compliance. … [It] is going to take a concerted effort by our industry, the tax practitioner community, to help solve this problem,” especially when people may have already spent the money because they were unaware that the weren’t entitled to under the ERTC program and fell for the fraud being perpetrated by the ERTC mills. And that does not even account for the fees that were paid to the ERTC mills that will never be recovered.
He did note that IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, at last week’s IRS-sponsored tax forum in Atlanta did ask tax practitioners what they needed in regard to the ERTC.
In its July 26 statement, the IRS offered a series of recommendations on how to avoid ERTC scams. At the tax forum, Werfel said that the “amount of misleading marketing around this credit is staggering, and it is creating an array of problems for taxprofessionals and the IRS while adding risk for businesses improperly claiming the credit. A terrible scenario is unfolding that hurts everyone involved – except the promoters” of the misleading ERTC marketing.
By Gregory Twachtman, Washington News Editor