Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube

Senior IRS Leaders Launch Review of Agency’s Partnership With TurboTax and H&R Block

Both the IRS and its inspector general are investigating the partnership with the tax software industry in response to ProPublica’s reporting.

An H&R Block location in Mount Prospect, Illinois. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom based in New York. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

Amid calls for investigations from members of Congress, the IRS announced late Friday that it has convened a team of senior leaders to review concerns raised about its Free File public-private partnership with the tax software industry, following a series of ProPublica stories.

“The IRS is reviewing the concerns raised about the Free File program. We take these issues seriously, and a senior leadership team was assembled to review the current Free File program,” according to a statement. It added: “The IRS team will take fast action to ensure the integrity of the program.”

Under the Free File program, companies including Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block have promised to offer free preparation and filing options to millions of Americans. In exchange, the IRS has promised not to create its own free online system, which would compete with the industry.

But, as we have reported, use of the free option, which was never high, has dropped sharply in the past decade. Insiders say that Intuit and H&R Block deliberately steered users away from the Free File option and to paid products. At least five of the companies in the Free File program added code to their free websites effectively hiding them from Google and other search engines.

The move is a sharp break for the agency, which as recently as April 26 defended Free File as a “successful program and partnership that’s benefited millions of taxpayers.”

The agency said it has already reached out to the companies and others as part of its review.

Last week, members of Congress led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the companies’ compliance with the Free File program and laws banning deceptive advertising.

Separately, the IRS’ independent watchdog, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, is launching an audit of the Free File program in response to ProPublica’s reporting, the inspector general confirmed.

The inspector general last looked at the program over a decade ago, in 2007. The title of that audit report was “Additional Action Is Needed to Expand the Use and Improve the Administration of the Free File Program.”

Spokespeople for Intuit and H&R Block didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment but previously said the companies are proud of their role in Free File.

Have you worked for Intuit, H&R Block, or another tax preparation company? We want to hear from you. Fill out our questionnaire or contact Justin Elliott at justin@propublica.org or via Signal at 774-826-6240.

Protect Independent Journalism

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing. We were founded ten years ago to fill a growing hole in journalism: newsrooms were (and still are) shrinking, and legacy funding models failing. Deep-dive reporting like ours is slow and expensive, and investigative journalism is a luxury in many newsrooms today — but it remains as critical as ever to democracy and our civic life. A decade (and five Pulitzer Prizes) later, ProPublica has built the largest investigative newsroom in the country. Our work has spurred reform through legislation, at the voting booth, and inside our nation’s most important institutions.

This story you’ve just finished was funded by our readers and we hope it inspires you to make a gift to ProPublica so that we can publish more investigations like this one that holds people in power to account and produces real change.

Your donation will help us ensure that we can continue this critical work. From the Trump Administration, criminal justice, health care, immigration and so much more, we are busier than ever covering stories you won’t see anywhere else. Make your gift of any amount today and join the tens of thousands of ProPublicans across the country, standing up for the power of independent journalism to produce real, lasting change. Thank you.

Donate Now

Portrait of Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a ProPublica reporter covering politics and government accountability. To securely send Justin documents or other files online, visit our SecureDrop page.

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page