IRS watchdog: Shutdown caused 'shocking' drop in phone help

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WASHINGTON (AP) Disruptions from last month's partial government shutdown caused a "shocking" deterioration in the IRS' telephone help for taxpayers in the first week of the filing season, the agency's watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.

In the week of Jan. 28, the official start of the tax season, the Internal Revenue Service staff answered only 48 percent of calls seeking help in filing returns, with an average wait time of 17 minutes, the report from the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate said.

That compares with 86 percent of calls answered, and an average wait of 4 minutes, at the same time last year.

At the same time, 93 percent of taxpayers who called that week to arrange installment tax payments were unable to speak with an assistant.