H&R Block, facing a public relations debacle over how it informed thousands of customers about improperly prepared federal tax returns, is now directly reaching those affected rather than relying on posts on the company’s Facebook page.
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
The Kansas City-based tax preparation giant said it will email, call or send letters to customers who had returns prepared between Feb. 14 and 22 without a correct Form 8863, used for educational tax credits.
Many already had received letters from the Internal Revenue Service about the mistake, but the only communication provided by the company was on its Facebook site or in person at its offices.
The IRS has estimated the mistake affected more than 600,000 of the tax returns containing Form 8863. The IRS could not estimate how many of those misfiled returns came from Block, but the company was bearing the brunt of complaints.
Since March 7, when H&R Block first posted a notice on its Facebook page about the Form 8863 problem, the page has received more than 7,200 comments, most of them highly critical of the firm’s handling of the issue.
In a Facebook posting shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday, Block told unhappy customers about its change in communication strategy.
“There continues to be a lot of information floating around regarding the Form 8863 issue that is impacting a number of our clients,” the company stated. “We are reaching out to each and every one of you individually to give you direction and give you the facts.
“Please look for those emails, calls or letters starting tomorrow.”
Gene King, manager of communications at H&R Block, said in an email Wednesday that in addition to the Facebook page, Block customers have had the option of visiting company offices to have their questions answered.
“We have been communicating and continue to be communicating with our clients,” he said. “Ongoing communication in our offices and via social channels was occurring with clients.
“It’s important to note that as a one-to-one relationship business we’ve been having conversations with our clients impacted by this issue in our offices directly. We have assisted many clients directly in resolving the matter with the IRS. In addition, we have worked directly with the IRS on a solution that expedites the processing of these returns.
“We have reached out and will continue to reach out to our clients in many different channels.”
How the offices have been handling the problem has been a source of criticism as well.
Kevin Weyler, a soldier at Fort Riley, reached The Star on Wednesday and said he got confusing responses when he went to the H&R Block office in Junction City, Kan.
“It seems like they tell you one thing to get you out of the office, and they don’t have a clue as to what’s going on,” Weyler said.
H&R Block has assured those customers affected by the problem that it is being taken care of directly between the company and the IRS, and customers need not do anything more themselves.
Customers’ tax refunds, however, are expected to be delayed up to several weeks as a result.
Public relations experts have criticized Block’s reliance on Facebook, saying the firm should have reached people directly about the mistake.
To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at kckansascity.