By Patrick Temple-West

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U. S. Internal Revenue Service said on Friday that it has stopped initiating new asset seizures from tax delinquents during the government shutdown and is enforcing seizures only in "extremely limited" instances.

During the shutdown, the "IRS is not sending out levies or liens," an agency spokeswoman said in a statement to Reuters.

Under tax law, the IRS can seize property from U. S. citizens who have not paid their taxes. Known as levies, such seizures can target bank account balances, real estate or other assets.

Levies are different from tax liens. A lien is a claim used as security for a tax debt, while a levy actually takes the assets or property to satisfy the debt.

Any levies or liens a taxpayer might receive during the shutdown were printed before the IRS closed, the agency said.

Tax professionals had expressed concern that the government shutdown had left tax delinquents defenseless against IRS asset seizures.

IRS staffers who assist delinquent taxpayers in defending themselves from collectors have been furloughed, while some IRS tax collectors who pursue individuals and businesses that are delinquent are still working through the shutdown.

The shutdown, now in its fourth day, has furloughed more than 90 percent the IRS's 94,000-person workforce.

The only enforcement actions the IRS is undertaking during the shutdown involve criminal cases or non-criminal "isolated instances where we need to take immediate action to protect the government's interest," IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge said.

"For criminal issues, most IRS Criminal Investigation employees continue to work during this period," Eldridge said.

(Fixes spelling of delinquents in headline)

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Gevirtz)


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