Gentle reminders to pay up pay off

Have you noticed that several government letters and bills have been redesigned in recent years?

Some of those are due to successful trials using behavioural insights and "nudges" to influence people's behaviour, to make payments on time, for instance.

The topic of behavioural insights was highlighted in the latest issue of the Civil Service College's public policy journal Ethos, published last month. Case studies it cited showed that the use of such insights worked, to varying degrees.

In a trial, the Land Transport Authority redesigned its envelope and letter to remind vehicle owners to renew their road tax.

The new envelope had a prominent call to action on the front and a "social norm statement" on the back, which said nine in 10 vehicle owners renewed their road tax on time. The letter was revised in two ways - one with the same social norm statement added, and the other with a loss-aversion statement, "Avoid late renewal fees", added.

Using the revised envelope and letter with the loss-aversion statement was more effective, and led to the proportion of people renewing their road tax on time rising by 1.7 percentage points, to 90.1 per cent.

In another trial, in letters reminding motorists to pay parking fines, the Urban Redevelopment Authority added social norm statements and pointed out the consequences of not paying. The proportion of motorists who met the deadline rose by 4 percentage points, to 69 per cent.

A trial by the taxman was highly successful. When it sent a text message to remind people to pay their overdue property taxes before penalties are imposed, 47 per cent of the recipients promptly did so, compared to 16 per cent in the control group.

All three government bodies have since adopted the trialled methods.

Priscilla Goy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Gentle reminders to pay up pay off'. Print Edition | Subscribe