Private Letter Rulings
Department of Revenue regulations (61 Pa. Code § 3.3) provide for the issuance of private letter rulings.
A private letter ruling is issued at the discretion of the department by its Office of Chief Counsel for the purpose of advising a taxpayer of the department’s application of tax laws to a specific factual situation and issue(s) unique to the taxpayer. The department will not issue “comfort” private letter rulings, that is a letter to address an issue that is clearly and adequately addressed by other sources (statutes, regulations, court rulings, tax bulletins, forms, and instructions, etc.).
A private letter ruling is designed to provide guidance regarding the department’s interpretation and application of tax laws. Its purpose is not to make findings of fact. Facts provided by the taxpayer will be assumed to be correct. It is not intended to serve as a pre-assessment review nor is it designed as a mechanism to circumvent the department’s investigatory or assessment powers.
The department will not consider a request for only a “favorable” ruling (a ruling with the result requested or espoused by the taxpayer). Further, the department will not consider a ruling whereby the taxpayer requests permission to withdraw the request if the department’s interpretation is inconsistent with the taxpayer’s interpretation of the tax law. Once the Office of Chief Counsel has determined that it will issue a private letter ruling, the requesting taxpayer cannot withdraw its request.
A letter ruling is binding upon the department based upon the facts provided. It is not binding upon the taxpayer. Therefore, the issuance of a private letter ruling is not an adjudication of the Department of Revenue. A taxpayer has no right to challenge or appeal the determinations or conclusions contained in a letter ruling.
Letter ruling requests concerning taxes for which the Auditor General has the right to approve determinations of tax liability must be approved by the Auditor General before the Department of Revenue can issue the letter ruling to the taxpayer.
Only the taxpayer to whom a private letter ruling is issued may rely on the ruling. A person may not rely on a letter ruling issued to another taxpayer even if the facts are identical to those described in the letter ruling.
A letter ruling has a term of five years during which a taxpayer may rely on the ruling absent a subsequent statutory or regulatory change or department revocation or modification of the private letter ruling. A taxpayer may request a renewal of a private letter ruling.
Procedure for Obtaining a Private Letter Ruling
A request for a private letter ruling must be submitted in writing to the Office of Chief Counsel. Private letter ruling requests may be submitted by mail, fax, or email at the following address:
Pennsylvania Department of Revenue
Office of Chief Counsel
P.O. Box 281061
Harrisburg, PA 17128-1061
There is no specific form that must be used for a private letter ruling request, but the request must be submitted in writing. Because a private letter ruling applies to a specific taxpayer and set of facts, a private letter ruling will not be issued in response to a general question or a hypothetical set of facts.
A request for a private letter ruling must specifically identify the taxpayer(s) to whom it will be issued. It must also contain all relevant facts related to the transaction or taxing event for which the letter ruling is requested. Complete copies of all relevant documents should be submitted with the ruling request, such as tax forms, contracts, agreements, deeds, trusts, and wills. Further, the request must contain the specific legal question(s) to be answered. The Office of Chief Counsel may request additional information or documentation to supplement a private letter ruling request.
There is no statutory timeframe in which the Office of Chief Counsel must issue a private letter ruling. The Office of Chief Counsel attempts to issue rulings within 60 days of the request, but that timeframe can depend upon the complexity of the request. This general timeframe may also be extended for matters in which Auditor General review and approval is required.
As previously stated, private letter rulings are discretionary. If the Office of Chief Counsel does not issue a private letter ruling, it will notify the taxpayer and may provide a non-binding response that provides general guidance in response to the request.
There is no fee/cost for a private letter ruling.
A taxpayer may request that a private letter be renewed. A request for a renewal follows the same procedure for an original private letter ruling request. A taxpayer should submit a renew request well in advance of the 5-year expiration date.
Although a private letter ruling is issued to a specific taxpayer and is only binding for that taxpayer, many questions raised in private letter ruling requests have applicability to the public. Therefore, the department reserves the right to publish redacted copies of private letter rulings on its website for informational purposes. A taxpayer who requests a private letter ruling consents to such publication unless the taxpayer specifically indicates in the letter ruling request that the taxpayer does not agree to the department publishing the ruling.
Right to Know Law
All private letter rulings are subject to the Right to Know Law.