Doing the incentive thing

Thinking some more about the move by Companies House to double the offline fees, I wondered what the big picture plan was. The Inland Revenue are trying to pay you to go online (the £10 for Self Assessment may be defunct, but the £250 for PAYE is still going strong), HM Customs lured you with an extra week to pay if you did it electronically (probably quite a deal if you’re a small business ever worried about cash flow) and now CH, part of the dti, add a new model.

Imagine a systematic plan – with baselines drawn up for where things were before, populations normalised and data collected on rates of change of use per channel etc. But I just don’t think it’s going to be that well thought through. Even if it wasn’t, now would be a good time to change. After all, the populations that IR, Customs and CH deal with overlap neatly here. If you’re doing PAYE, you’re certainly a limited company and so certainly filing returns with CH; you’re most likely doing VAT too. So if you take the baseline population as those that file with Companies House, you could work through the other departments quite neatly. It doesn’t always work the other way round – those filing VAT don’t always have limited companies and many companies have more than one payroll.

There’s room for a business-focused study here that could yield very useful data on what it is exactly that stimulates people to go online and use government services. Some interview samples from willing traders that backup the statistics would help clear out any particular blocks too. Once the data is available – and it should take perhaps 6 months to get a reasonable sample – some conclusions could be drawn and then rolled out across all departments dealing with businesses online (and from there to Local Authorities and business rates). The data might even apply to citizens as well, although I can imagine doubling fees for continuing to use paper services being a controversial move (I can hear the cries now – only 50% are online; my granny doesn’t have a PC etc).

Paul Miller left a comment on my post below wondering whether we need to push harder on incentivisation. It seems to me that if you can:

– Say that a big enough range of services is available


– Commit that the services will be available when they’re needed

Then you would only need to test the incentive process. After all, Amazon offers free shipping above certain amounts, why can’t government differentiate the same way? The incentives could even stack on each other – the more you do, the more benefit you derive.

Is there a plan coming together here? Is there a tiny bit of joined up government going on with a range of departments figuring out in a semi-scientific way what the best approach is? I’d love to believe it were so, but it almost certainly isn’t. Maybe I’ll put in an FOI request and ask!

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