Tax Chat! No. 5
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics:
An International Movement
Registration Now Open!
We are ringing in the new year with a Tax Chat! on a topic dear to my heart – low income taxpayer clinics. On Tuesday, January 12th, 2021, at noon ET/17:00 GMT/18:00 CET we will have our first Tax Chat! of 2021. As always, registration for this virtual Tax Chat! is free, but we need to register in order to send you the zoom link. You can check out the exact time of the event in your time zone here.
Our guests for this Tax Chat! include tax clinicians from the United States, Australia, England, and Ireland – truly the beginning of an international movement:
- Keith Fogg, Federal Tax Clinic, Harvard Law School, United States
- David Massey and Amy Lawton, North West Tax Clinic, University of Lancaster, United Kingdom
- Annette Morgan and Donovan Castelyn, Curtin Tax Clinic, Curtin University, Australia
- Emer Mulligan, Student Tax Clinic, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland
- David Sams, Executive Director, The Community Tax Law Project, United States
Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITCs) first started in the United States in the 1970s as part of clinical education in law schools. While there were many programs providing free tax preparation help for low income taxpayers, low income taxpayers were on their own when they disagreed with IRS audit or collection actions. LITCs filled that gap by providing pro bono representation in controversies with the IRS.
Originally LITCs received funding from the U.S. Department of Education but by the early 1990s, that funding source had ceased and only 13 student clinics were in existence. In 1992 I founded The Community Tax Law Project, the first independent non-profit LITC. In 1997 and 1998, the late Janet Spragens, a professor at American University in Washington DC who led the AU Student Tax Clinic, and I urged the U.S. Congress to provide a funding stream for LITCs. Congress ultimately adopted § 7526 of the Internal Revenue Code, which established a federal grant program for LITCs.
Today, the grant program is administered by the Taxpayer Advocate Service (I oversaw the grant program as National Taxpayer Advocate from 2004 to 2019); Congress appropriated $13 million for grants, which are required to be matched 1-for-1 with cash or in-kind contributions, including volunteer hours. There are now over 135 LITCs throughout the United States.
The tax clinic movement has caught on internationally — with programs in Australia, United Kingdom, and Ireland. In this Tax Chat! we’ll talk about the impressive work the clinics are accomplishing and the challenges of starting up a clinic, finding funding, coordinating volunteers. I am hoping this Tax Chat! will begin a more far-reaching conversation about achieving access to justice for low income taxpayers – a conversation that will be continued at our 5th International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, where we will hold a half-day workshop on LITCs and low income taxpayers.
I hope to see you all at the Tax Chat! on January 12th! You can watch past Tax Chats! on our You Tube channel here.
All the best, and Happy New Year!
Nina E. Olson
P.S. For more information about the the history and operation of Low Income Taxpayer Clinics, please see the following articles:
Helen Codd Lucy Blackburn, David Massey, Deborah Wood, and Stephanie Jones, ‘The Best of Times and the Worst of Times’: Reflections on Developing a Prison-Based Business Law and Tax Clinic in the Midst of a Global Pandemic, Int’l Journal of Clinical Legal Education, Vol. 27, No. 4 (2020).
Keith Fogg, History of Low Income Taxpayer Clinics, Tax Lawyer, Vol. 67, No. 1 (2013)
Keith Fogg, Every Taxpayer Counts: Nina Olson’s Impact on Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics (January 4, 2021). Pittsburgh Tax Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=
Amy Lawton and David Massey, Opening Our Doors, Tax Advisor (Sept. 29, 2020).
Annette Morgan, A Report on Australia’s National Tax Clinic Program, Taxpayer Rights Digest (Feb. 15, 2020).
Taxpayer Advocate Service, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Program Annual Report (2019).