Should regulatory agencies design their operations for the 95% who are willing to do the right thing, or the 5% who don’t? Well, both, says Chris Jordan, the commissioner of the Australian Taxation Office, but with much greater focus on the needs of the majority.
“In Australia, there are many regulators (including the ATO historically), and government agencies that focus more on the people who do the wrong thing. They administer systems for the very last worst person – which imposes unnecessary burdens on those who want to do the right thing. It causes the majority of people to have a more expensive, time consuming and painful experience.
“My intention is to be a tax administration that focuses on the client experience, making things easier for people, paying attention to material matters, recognising time has a cost, where our decisions are clearly understood, and our activities are not an unnecessary drain on the productivity of our nation.”
To get there, Jordan says the ATO has prioritised ‘decluttering’, eliminating mindless checklists and “freeing people up to think and use their judgment.” They also removed 5.3 million words (around 45%) from the ATO website.
They’ve also changed how they work. Prevention, rather than ‘gotcha’. Also, taking the lessons from behavioural economics research to remind and encourage good behaviour, like SMSs to habitual late lodgers and payers.
Automated SMS reminders repeated an extra $800 million in on-time payments last year at a cost of 9 cents per SMS, compared with $1 for a formal letter.
They’ve reduced costly court actions by prioritising early engagement, alternative dispute resolution and support for those in dispute. That leaves their litigation budget free to focus on the cases that can really make a difference.
Read Jordan’s full address at the ATO website.