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How can the Office of Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate help me?

Generally, the Office of Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate (OTRA) can help a person who:

  • Is suffering or is about to suffer a significant hardship.
  • Will incur significant costs (including fees for professional representation).
  • Has experienced a delay of more than 180 days to resolve a tax issue.
  • Has not received a response or resolution by the date promised. 

What are the issues most frequently addressed by the Office of Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate?

Relief from Joint Liability

Married taxpayers who file joint Pennsylvania personal income tax returns are jointly and individually responsible for the taxes and any interest or penalties due on joint returns, even if they later divorce.

Three types of relief from joint liability are available to a taxpayer who filed a joint Pennsylvania personal income tax return with his or her spouse:

  • Understatement of tax
  • Separation of liability
  • Income allocation requirements differ for each type of relief

For more information, see the Relief from Joint Liability book (PA-971).

Injured Spouse Relief

A spouse may claim injured spouse relief to protect his or her share of overpaid tax from being applied toward his or her spouse’s past due personal income tax liabilities, child/spousal support liabilities, court-ordered obligations or federal income tax debt. See Injured Spouse Claim and Allocation (PA-8379) for more information.


A domestic violence victim who can demonstrate he/she involuntarily completed a return as a result of spousal abuse and/or duress should contact the advocate for further information and guidance.

What are the issues the Office of Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate is unable to address?

The Office of Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate is not designed to circumvent normal procedural channels in resolving tax disputes, but rather to intercede on the taxpayer’s behalf when normal departmental processes break down.

The Office of Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate cannot:

  • Act as legal counsel for individual situations.
  • Reduce tax liability through offer of compromise when taxes are legally due.
  • Grant or set up payment plans.
  • Release liens, however if a taxpayer assistance order or a relief determination eliminates a tax liability, any associated liens will automatically be released.
  • Change a final assessment issued by the Department of Revenue if the Board of Appeals, Board of Finance and Revenue or any other court has upheld the assessment.
  • Change Pennsylvania’s tax laws for individual situations.
  • Accept cases where the Department of Revenue can generally provide the service the taxpayer needs without the OTRA’s involvement (examples: processing of original tax returns, amended returns, rejected and unpostable returns).
  • Provide expected dates that individual refunds will be issued.
  • Help with federal, local and/or county tax matters.