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IRS Halts Processing Of New ERC Claims

Amid a growing number of scams and fraudulent activity surrounding the Employee Retention Credit, the Internal Revenue Service will stop processing new claims, effective immediately, at least through the end of the year.

“We are deeply concerned that this program is not operating in a way that was intended today, far from the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021,” IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel said during a September 14, 2023, conference call with reporters. “We believe we should see only a trickle of employee retention claims coming in. Instead, we are seeing a tsunami.”

Werfel said the agency has received about 3.6 million claims by taxpayers taking advantage of the program and there are more than 600,000 that have yet to be processed, “virtually all of which were received within the last 90 days. That means about 15 percent of all ERCclaims received since the start of the program three and half years ago have been received in the last 90 days. That’s an incredibly large number to have so far beyond the pandemic and nearly two years after the time periods covered by the program.”

He attributed the spike in claims to emergence and prevalence of so-called ERC mills.

“This great program to help small businesses has been overtaken by aggressive promoters,” Werfel said. “The ads are everywhere. The program has become the centerpiece for unscrupulous marketing and profits from pushing taxpayers to claim a credit that they would not be eligible for.”

The agency said in a September 14, 2023, press release that it will process claims already received, but as of today, there will be no new claims processed for the pandemic-era relief program aimed to help small businesses remain in operation while dealing with potential economic hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, for those who have filed claims, they can expect longer wait times for the financial relief offered by the credit as the agency conducts more detailed compliance reviews of the claims that have been filed.

And that compliance work as already begun. Werfel stated that as of July 31, 2023, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division has initiated 252 investigations involving more than $2.8 billion worth of potentially fraudulent ERC claims. Fifteen of those cases have resulted in federal charges, with six cases resulting in convictions, and an average sentence of 21 months for those reaching the sentencing phase. He also stated that the agency has referred thousands of claims for audit.

“With the stricter compliance reviews in place during this period, existing ERCclaims will go from a standard processing goal of 90 day to 180 days – and much longer if the claim faces further review or audit,” the agency stated in the press release. “The IRS may also seek additional documentation from the taxpayer to ensure it is a legitimate claim.”

To help taxpayers who may have fallen victim to an ERC mill, the IRS will be introducing programs in the coming weeks and months to help taxpayers. First, the agency will be providing a process under which taxpayers with unprocessed claims can withdraw those claims. To help taxpayers in self-reviewing their already submitted claims or who may be thinking about submitting claims when the IRS begins processing new claims again, the agency on September 14, 2023, released an updated eligibility checklist. The process to withdraw a claim will be finalized soon.

For those who have had their claims processed, received money and then later received a determination that they were in fact ineligible for the credit, the IRS will be offering a settlement program to help taxpayers pay back funds they should not have received due to eligibility reasons. Details on the settlement program will be released in coming months.

This help may be needed because the IRS recognizes that a business or tax-exempt group c“ould find itself in a much worse financial position if you have to pay back the credit than if the credit was never claimed in the first place,” Werfel said.

Werfel is encouraging those who have submitted claims to do an independent verification of eligibility with a trusted tax professional to ensure they were in fact eligible for the credit and if they were not, be ready to take the steps to withdraw the claim if it hasn’t been paid or to look for the settlement program if necessary.

By Gregory Twachtman, Washington News Editor

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