Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Support Center
Promoting the formation, continuation, and expansion of Low Income Taxpayer Clinics
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics, or LITCs, are organizations that provide pro bono (free) or nominal fee representation to low income taxpayers who have tax disputes with federal, state, or local tax agencies. The disputes can involve audits, administrative appeals, collection, account adjustments, or litigation. LITCs also provide outreach and education for low income taxpayers and taxpayers who speak English as a Second Language (ESL) about taxpayer rights and responsibilities. LITCs began in the United States in the 1970s as part of clinical education programs in law, accounting, and business schools. In 1992 the first freestanding LITC was founded. LITCs expanded significantly in the late 1990s with the enactment of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, which created a federally funded matching grant program. In addition to the U.S., there are several LITCs in Australia.
Without LITCs, taxpayers who cannot afford representation in tax disputes with the tax agency are likely to get the wrong result, simply because they do not understand the tax law, or they do not understand what they need to provide the agency to support their case, or they simply give up because they are afraid or intimidated by the tax agency.
LITCs are vital for ensuring two key taxpayer rights:
- the right to retain representation, and
- the right to a fair and just tax system.
The fundamental requisite of due process of law is the opportunity to be heard.
— Grannis v. Ordean, 234 U.S. 385 (1914)
Low income and other vulnerable taxpayer populations may not know they have the general right to challenge the tax agency and be heard, or that they have specific protections under the law. LITCs ensure that low income taxpayers are afforded the same rights and protections — due process — as taxpayers who can pay for counsel.
By providing pro bono representation of low income taxpayers and educating low income taxpayers about their rightss and responsibilities, LITCs ensure that tax disputes are decided on the merits and not by default. And through litigating cases, submitting comments on tax regulations and tax agency notices and initiatives, and writing articles, conducting research, and presenting at conferences, LITCs ensure that the tax law takes into consideration the facts and circumstances of low income and other vulnerable populations, not just affluent or corporate taxpayers.
In 1998 there were only 14 LITCs in the United States. Only one was a freestanding clinic, The Community Tax Law Project, founded by Nina Olson, the Center’s Executive Director. With the enactment of the matching grant program for LITCs under Internal Revenue Code section 7526, as part of the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, the LITC community has blossomed. Today, there are over 130 LITCs throughout the U.S., receiving a total of approximately $12 million in IRS grants annually.
To receive an IRS grant, LITCs must demonstrate a dollar-for-dollar match, in the form of either cash or in-kind contributions. One of the challenges for many LITCs is the ability to raise matching cash funds. This is particularly the case for LITCs serving taxpayers in rural areas.
While donated volunteer attorney and CPA time can count as an in-kind match for an IRS grant, for many clinics located in rural areas, there may be few volunteers available.
A tax liability may factor into domestic violence, prolonged poverty, depression and mental illness, and even suicide.
All LITCs face the challenges of educating foundations and other donors about the importance of representation in tax disputes, and how taxes impact all aspects of human life, including one’s ability to prosper and care for one’s family.
Here's how the LITC Support Center assists clinics:
LITC Advisory Board
The LITC Advisory Board members include clinic directors, academics, tax professionals and others interested in ensuring access to justice in taxation. The Board advises the Center on the type of support and research activities that LITCs may benefit from, and identifies issues for joint advocacy, including submitting comments on Treasury regulations and IRS initiatives. The Advisory Board also identifies issues that may benefit from a coordinated litigation strategy or an amicus curiae brief. The Board will also suggest initiatives that can form the basis of funding proposals.
LITC Pro Bono Referral Network
For rural and small LITCs, the demand for services outstrips the LITC’s legal staff resources and it can be challenging finding pro bono attorneys in their area willing to take on a tax case. The LITC Pro Bono Referral Network will connect volunteer lawyers from large and mid-size firms with rural or small LITCs, providing much needed representation. In addition, the value of the donated attorney time can be used for dollar-for-dollar matching in-kind funds for additional IRS funding, thereby increasing cash resources available for staffing and other program expenses.
It is difficult for LITCs dealing with the day-to-day challenges of representing taxpayers to identify and follow up on grant opportunities. The LITC Support Center will strive identify potential sources of funding for LITCs, especially LITCs serving rural taxpayers or specific taxpayer populations such as Native Americans. It will coordinate and submit “umbrella” grants for LITCs on specific issues such as domestic violence and taxation, in order to attract funding from national foundations.
Technical Training & Support
Low income taxpayers can present complex substantive and procedural tax issues. Volunteer attorneys and staff may not be versed in these areas. The LITC Support Center will develop a directory of tax professionals willing to advise LITC staff and pro bono volunteers and help the Center develop training for pro bono volunteers and new LITC staff. The Center will also provide technical assistance to tax agencies and tax professionals interested in establishing LITC programs in their countries.
Support our work in assisting LITCs.
The Center for Taxpayer Rights is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.