Nudge unit sells behavioural expertise to Australia

image captionSending personalised text messages has helped boost the payment of court fines

An "innovative" government unit set up by one of David Cameron's closest aides is to start exporting knowledge to Australia.

The "Nudge Unit" advises government on ways to encourage people to change behaviour, without using compulsion.

It claims to have helped increase court fine payments and late tax payments by employing its unusual techniques.

Ministers said the unit had saved taxpayers money and showed the UK was a world leader in behavioural change.

The approach is based on a school of thought that "nudging" people in a certain direction is more productive and cost-effective than trying to change behaviour by banning things or passing regulation.

It was championed by Steve Hilton, a former close aide to Prime Minister David Cameron, who helped establish the Behavioural Insights Team at No 10 after the 2010 general election.

'Global scale'

The government says the unit has identified at least £300m in savings since its launch, which has sparked the interest of the New South Wales government in Australia.

The unit claims to have helped the UK Court Service save £30m a year and reduce bailiff interventions by 150,000 by sending personalised text messages to those with outstanding court fines.

Telling late tax payers that other people in their town have already paid up has boosted payment rates by 15%, the unit said, generating another £30m in extra revenue.

Grants Shapps, a minister at the Cabinet Office, said: "As a government, we've led the way in this innovative field.

"Behavioural insight is about giving power back to the individual, encouraging them to think about their choices and how those choices will affect them in the long term.

"The work of the unit has improved public services and saved taxpayers' money - so I'm proud that it will be recognised on a global scale."

The Cabinet Office refused to reveal how much the deal with New South Wales is worth.

Chris Eccles, director general of the New South Wales Department for Premier and Cabinet, said: "We're delighted to be working in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team to promote the greater application of behavioural insights in New South Wales.

"We are enthusiastic about the opportunity to improve service delivery and reduce the impact of regulation by enabling people to make better choices for themselves."

The unit was originally set up for a period of two years. However, it is set to continue after a recent review found it had met its objectives.

The prime minister said the unit should be allowed "greater freedom and flexibilities" to apply its approach within and outside government.

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