Ministry of Justice boosts fine payments via simple letter tweak

by Sol Dolor12 Jan 2019

A single sentence added by to the letter sent by the Ministry of Justice to people who owe fines to the government could mean a big boost in payments.

The ministry said in its Justice Matters newsletter for December that it started using behavioural insights in early 2018 to improve the way it delivers services. In a trial, the ministry’s behavioural insights team tested four versions of a letter sent to people who were very late in paying fines.

One of the letters contained this additional sentence: “Most people pay their fines, you are in the small minority that still needs to pay.”

That version of the letter was the most effective, boosting fine collection by 7.2%. The ministry said that if used annually, it could expect an added $300,000 paid within 28 days of receipt of the letter. For those who have payment arrangements, the ministry could expect an additional $1.7m in collections.

The key to the letter’s effectiveness is that it sets what’s known as a social norm, said Vee Snijders, senior advisor in behavioural insights. She said that most people want to do what everyone else considers normal. People want to do the right thing but they sometimes forget to pay fines because of busy lives, she said.

The ministry said that it plans to expand its small behavioural insights team across the justice sector. Areas the team is working on include other fine letters and how to encourage people to attend community work or comply with bail conditions.