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Nudging litterbugs to pay fines on time

The challenge: Encourage people to do the right thing when it comes to paying their litter fines

Partner: Environment Protection Authority (Vic)

Year: 2015

Since fines for litter thrown out of cars were increased in February 2013, the EPA has seen a steady decline in the payment of litter fines and an increase in the number of people avoiding paying the fine by submitting a statutory declaration, often wrongfully or in bad faith.

Clearly, this has a negative impact on the authority, and its reputation.

What did we do?

We tested changes to the way that fine information and the payment process is presented to litter offenders.

We wanted to see what would impact their decision and behaviour to either submit a statutory declaration denying the offence, ignore a fine, or make payment.

Working with the EPA, we:

– modified the two main communications channels about litter fines; the letters and reminders sent to offenders as well as the EPA webpages ‘how to pay your fine’

– altered the layout and language using established behaviour change approaches including loss aversion, personalisation and salience– changed the process for submitting a statutory declaration, directing people to download the form from the website, rather than providing it with the fine letter

– altered wording on the form to highlight the consequences of submitting a false statutory declaration. 

We then measured the number of queries and calls to EPA, website traffic and the number of statutory declarations over the test period, along with changes to the total payments made on time. 

Results

A pre-post evaluation showed an average 13 per cent increase in the number of people who were avoiding late fines by paying on time. 

There were only slight differences between those who received larger (13.5 per cent increase) and smaller (11.4 per cent increase) fines. 

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This will save Victorians around $33,000 a month in late fees (*as of 2015).

“These behavioural change tests have been successful. EPA has seen an increase in the number of people paying their fines consistent with similar trials in other jurisdictions.”– Annie Volkering, Executive Director, Corporate Services

We also found that there was an 18 per cent reduction in the number of people submitting statutory declarations. 

The effect was more noticeable for those with smaller fines (21.3 per cent reduction) than those with larger fines (16.4 per cent reduction). This research, and ongoing testing, will seek to determine an optimum mix of interventions over several future trials, allowing the EPA to give clear and concise messaging to future litter fine recipients.

Application

These trials show that it is possible to move the default action of litter offenders towards fine payment (rather than submitting a statutory declaration or ignoring the fine), through applying behavioural insights to communication channels and processes. 

The trials and techniques used by the EPA provide lessons that can be applied at other fine collection agencies to reduce red tape for consumers and improve returns on investment from communications channels and processes.