What is the IRS whistleblowers program?

The IRS whistleblower program provides rewards and protections to individuals who report to the IRS detailed information about significant tax fraud or other tax violations by their employers or others. The program is administered by the IRS Whistleblower Office.

The Tax Relief and Health Care Act, passed by Congress in 2006, created the expanded IRS whistleblower program and its core provisions. Additional, powerful protections for IRS whistleblowers were added with the enactment of the bipartisan Taxpayer First Act of 2019.

Can IRS whistleblowers receive rewards?

Tax whistleblowers may receive a reward of 15% to 30% of the amount the IRS collects as a result of information they provided to the IRS.

To qualify for the IRS whistleblower reward, the whistleblowers must provide information about tax fraud or tax underpayments that exceeds $2 million (counting tax, penalties and interest). In addition, if allegations concern an individual, that person’s annual income must exceed $200,000.

If a reward from the IRS fails to sufficiently recognize the whistleblower’s contribution, the whistleblower may appeal the reward amount to the US Tax Court.

If the IRS whistleblower initiated or planned the tax fraud, the IRS may reduce or deny a reward. An IRS whistleblower reward also may be reduced if the whistleblower’s allegations have been previously disclosed.

...If the IRS ever wants to put an end to Wall Street tax shelter schemes, they are going to need the help of Wall Street insiders to get the information and the expertise that it will take.
- Mr. ABC, a Phillips & Cohen whistleblower client who has received over $20 million in IRS whistleblower rewards, Congressional testimony

How are IRS whistleblowers protected?

 The IRS will keep the identities of tax whistleblowers confidential with certain limitations.

Due to IRS whistleblower protection, whistleblowers who experience job retaliation – including being fired, demoted, harassed or having their pay cut – may sue for reinstatement, double back pay, attorneys’ fees and compensation for other damages, such as emotional distress and reputational harm.

The law also prohibits the enforcement of arbitration provisions requiring  retaliation claims to be arbitrated.

How will the IRS communicate with whistleblowers?

The Taxpayer First Act made important improvements in the IRS whistleblower program by authorizing the IRS to communicate with whistleblowers and their attorneys to request assistance and to notify them at certain times during the processing of their claims.

The IRS Whistleblower Office will automatically notify whistleblowers within 60 days whenever audit referrals or tax payments have been made due to the whistleblower’s information. This may provide greater transparency for whistleblowers and their counsel and help them learn whether they are eligible for an award.

The IRS also now can advise whistleblowers whether their matter is under investigation  or is closed. If closed, the IRS can tell whistleblowers whether they will receive a reward or their claims are denied.

Importantly, the IRS still must shield the privacy of the entities and individuals under investigation.

Phillips & Cohen advocates for IRS whistleblowers

Phillips & Cohen has the longest-standing and most successful practice representing whistleblowers in government reward and protection programs, with more than $1.1 billion in whistleblower awards made to Phillips & Cohen clients.

The IRS awarded a Phillips & Cohen whistleblower client $20 million for his help in exposing an abusive tax shelter involving billions of dollars. This is one of the largest publicly announced awards from the IRS whistleblower program. In addition, the IRS awarded the same Phillips & Cohen client two whistleblower awards involving other entities: one for $2 million and another for $1.1 million.

In advocating for a different tax whistleblower client, Phillips & Cohen partner Edward H. Arens won an important victory in US Tax Court, which also will benefit other IRS whistleblowers who challenge IRS award determinations.

Erika A. KeltonLarry Zoglin, Arens and Emily Stabile of Phillips & Cohen and attorney Andrea Hasegawa co-authored Tax Whistleblower Laws and Programswhich is part of Bloomberg BNA’s Tax Management Portfolios. The portfolios are considered the gold standard in the legal world for those dealing with tax matters.

Phillips & Cohen attorneys also have written many articles on the IRS whistleblower program. To read some of those articles, see the list below.

If you are aware of a tax fraud and would like to consult with a whistleblower attorney to discuss your options, please contact us for a free, confidential review of your case.

Articles by Phillips & Cohen attorneys about the IRS whistleblower program include:

  • “Giving credit where credit is due: requiring the IRS to properly attribute its recoveries to whistleblowers” By Edward Arens – Bloomberg BNA: Tax Management Memorandum – September 1, 2017
  • “IRS should use whistleblowers, not collection agencies, to close the tax gap” by Erika Kelton – The Hill – May 5, 2017
  • “IRS whistleblower programs show signs of improvement, but still has a long way to go” by Erika Kelton – Phillips & Cohen – January 21, 2017
  • “IRS whistleblower program has more problems than the GAO found” by Edward Arens – Accounting Today – December 12, 2015
  • “Opinion: Bridge the tax gap: bringing in the whistleblowers” by Erika Kelton – Capitol Weekly – May 6, 2010
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