Amid concerns of fraud, assessors struggle to verify seniors’ age for new homestead tax exemption

City and county assessors across Iowa are struggling to verify an applicant’s age.
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 5:32 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The new application to receive a homestead tax credit asks for an applicant’s birthday. But, city and county assessors across Iowa are struggling to verify an applicant’s age.

An applicant’s age gained new importance with House File 718, which gives people 65-years-old or older an additional exemption of their taxable value worth $3,250 in 2023 and then doubles to $6,500 the following year. According to the Iowa Department of Revenue, people must file for the exemption by July 1st.

Multiple assessors, like Cedar Rapids Assessor Julie Carson, said the Department of Revenue is stopping efforts at verifying an applicant’s age. She said fraud is a real possibility as applications are being submitted electronically in an email. Dubuque County Assessor Billie Selby said he wanted to check IDs, but couldn’t after the Department of Revenue issued its guidance earlier in May.

Emails, which TV9 received from a public records request, show Iowa Department of Revenue Deputy Administrator Jon Wolfe said groups are not allowed to require any additional documentation not on the form in a memo to assessors and auditors.

“Additionally, several of you have inquired about requiring additional documentation to verify age eligibility (such as a driver’s license),” he wrote. “You are not allowed to require any additional documentation that is not requested on the form.”

But, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Revenue said there is nothing preventing an assessor from examining documents like a driver’s license. John Fuller said assessors can use other available data to verify an applicant’s age in an email. He said assessors can’t recommend against giving somebody the exemption because they didn’t provide additional documents.

“The assessor can use other available data to verify age and there is nothing preventing the assessor from examining a document such as a driver’s license,” Fuller wrote. “They just cannot recommend disallowance or refuse to accept a claim because the claimant doesn’t provide additional documentation not required by law.”

He also said documentation requirements to establish age eligibility for the new homestead exemption are consistent with other property tax credit programs that have been in operation for years.

Linn County Assessor Jerry Witt said the difficulties verifying somebody’s age are similar to the difficulties verifying somebody’s residence. He said he’s frustrated the state is asking officials to immediately implement the legislation without specific instructions.

“It’s just so, so new and there’s not really a lot of direction of specifics,” Witt said. “... Are we going to get in trouble if we do this? If I do look at somebody’s ID, am I going to get in trouble?”

Emails show the assessors got permission from the Secretary of State’s Office to use voter rolls to verify birthdates. But, it is unclear if a voter database counts as an additional document to verify somebody’s age mentioned in guidance sent to assessors.

Black Hawk County Assessor TJ Koegnigseld said it is working with their county auditor’s office along with other groups on verification, but it doesn’t have a system set up yet. He said fraud could become an issue, but it’s more focused on making people aware of the additional tax savings.

“This is all very new right now, so we are mainly focused on getting the word out and helping the citizens the exemption is intended for,” Koenigsfeld said.