The last three weeks have been rather eventful in the world of tax preparers oversight!

It all started last March when three tax preparers filed a law-suit against the IRS, seeking to end the testing requirements that would require tax return preparers to demonstrate competency, and to maintain proficiency by taking 15 hours of continuing education courses, in order to continue preparing and file tax returns for their clients.

A couple weeks ago came the news that U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boas berg of the DC District Court had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring that contrary to the IRS’ assertions, the agency does not have statutory powers to regulate individual tax preparers. The Judge enjoined the IRS from continuing to administer tests to certify the competence of tax return preparers.

Last week it was announced that the IRS, working in conjunction with the Justice Department, had moved to lift the initial injunction, while it prepared an appeal to be filed within the next 30 days.

The lead attorney for the tax preparers who filed the suit against the IRS was confident after the initial decision emitted by Judge Boas berg was definitive and unequivocal in its intent to halt the IRS regulation requiring individual tax preparers to take a competency test, and expressed confidence that the Judge would not go back on that decision.

However, on February 1, the Judge responded to the motion from the IRS, in conjunction with Department of Justice and modified his earlier decision. At least for the time being, the IRS does not have to shut down the tax return preparers registration program but, on the other hand, under the modified decision the Judge made it non-mandatory for tax preparers to take the competency test and pay the required testing fees to the IRS. Under the Judge’s modified ruling, preparers may take the test on a voluntary basis and are not required to pay the test fees. However, tax preparers are still required to apply for and obtain a registration number, or PIN, from the IRS, in order to qualify to file tax returns.

Under the new ruling, the IRS does not have to dismantle the costly and complex program it already put in place at a cost of millions of dollars, as such steps would have proven unnecessary should the present court decision be reversed on appeal.

The IRS has indicated that it will appeal the US District Court’s ruling that the agency does not have the power to license the hundreds of thousands of tax preparers who work on individual tax return preparation, and alludes to the fact that immediate discontinuing of the tax preparer oversight program would substantially disrupt tax administration. Already, there has been a delay on the date to begin filing individual returns, which was moved to January 30. Some returns will not start being processed until later.

In light of the events that have transpired in the last few weeks, one thing is certain. The IRS will appeal the Court’s decision to suspend the RTRP competency testing and the plaintiffs who filed the initial lawsuit will probably continue to try to derail the IRS’ intentions to regulate the tax preparation industry.

But judging by opinions aired in blogs by tax practitioners who have already studied for and passed the RTRP test, the oversight program is necessary to curb potential fraud and malpractice, reduce the gross errors in tax returns that end up working to the disadvantage of the taxpayer, but above all, point to having the RTRP certification as a symbol of professional pride and demonstrated competency, which will work to the advantage of the tax professional by raising taxpayers’ trust and confidence in the work of their tax preparer..

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