Public Service Spotlight: Harvard Law School’s Low Income Tax Clinic

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With less than 30 days until April 15th, most people have taxes on our mind. They’re pulling out our W2s, firing up their e-filing software and booking time with their accountants. But what happens when tax complications arise that are beyond your resources to manage?

Low-income taxpayer clinics have been described as a “life preserver,” often keeping households afloat when faced with tax issues that could devastate them financially. The Boston Bar Foundation is proud to support the new Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC) of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

“Low-income taxpayers face tax problems as frequently as wealthier taxpayers,” said Daniel Nagin, Faculty Director of the Legal Services Center. “However, low-income taxpayers frequently lack information and resources to respond effectively to tax problems.”

Adding to this is the fact that, given the specialized nature of tax practice, there are too few pro bono tax law programs to meet the enormous need for representation in low-income communities.

The result, says Nagin, is that too often taxpayers must fend for themselves. In doing so, they may fail to raise available defenses to IRS claims, and can feel overwhelmed by a complex and intimidating system.

Nagin also noted that while tax problems affect many low-income populations, certain subgroups are particularly in need.

“Since opening our Veterans Legal Clinic in 2012, we have been contacted by significant numbers of low-income veterans who face tax problems, and we have been encouraged by veterans’ service providers to expand resources in this area.  Veterans who need legal representation on tax matters will continue to be a population we prioritize in the LITC.”

Once fully staffed with a director on board this summer, the LITC will help fill these critical access to justice gaps, providing direct representation to low-income taxpayers in IRS controversies at the agency level and before the Tax Court. Representing taxpayers in such cases will not only provide much-needed financial relief, but also provide peace of mind to those who would otherwise have the daunting task of responding to the IRS pro se.