REPORT: Effective use of SMS: timely reminders to report on time

Domestic PolicyBehavioural EconomicsBETA registered trials
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Publication author(s):
Professor Michael J. Hiscox, Scott Copley, Jacqui Brewer, Andrei Turenko, and James Wilson.
Publication abstract:

Many income support recipients report their income late, which results in delayed, and sometimes even cancelled, payments. This can lead to financial gaps for these Australians and their families.

BETA joined forces with the Australian Government Department of Human Services to help job seekers report on time to receive their income support payments on time.

Drawing on behavioural insights, we designed six versions of an SMS reminder and ran a trial to test if they would improve people’s reporting behaviour.

The findings of our trial are clear: small, simple communication changes make a big difference. We found sending any SMS reminder increased the number of people who reported on time and reduced the number of payment cancellations. 

Executive Summary

BETA joined forces with the Australian Government Department of Human Services to help job seekers report on time and receive their income support payments on time.

For Australians looking for work, Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance (other) are the main payments provided by the Australian Government. In 2016, these payments totalled $10.95 billion. People who receive these payments must report their income every fortnight to ensure they receive the correct payment. In any given fortnight over 80,000 people (or 9 per cent) are late reporting their income and approximately 3,100 people are so late their payments are cancelled.

Drawing on behavioural insights, we designed a trial to test if a simple and timely reminder could make a difference. Australians live increasingly busy lives and make hundreds of decisions a day. It can be easy to get distracted, or procrastinate and forget even the smallest and simplest of tasks. Reminders have been shown to work in a range of contexts including healthcare, education, financial management, and family welfare, and are often used by the private sector to prompt on-time payment of bills, and renewals of products and services.

Because we know people can respond differently depending on how a message is framed, we also tested whether different reminder messages worked better than others. We designed three types of SMS reminders sent the day before the income report was due: a short and simple reminder (short group); a reminder emphasising the costs of not reporting (loss frame); and a reminder making the benefits of reporting on time more salient (gain frame). We also sent each message in a personalised and non-personalised version.

We tracked and measured the effect these messages had on income reporting and then compared these results with people who did not receive a reminder. We found sending any SMS reminder had a big impact, increasing the number of people who reported on time by 13.5 percentage points, with those who received an SMS reminder reporting sooner than those who did not. Some reminders also resulted in fewer payment cancellations (down by 1.7 percentage points).

The findings of our trial are clear: small, simple changes in service delivery make a big difference. Introducing a simple reminder helps those looking for work to receive the income they need, when they need it. These changes also help other Australians. By improving the efficiency of services, resourcing can be redirected to helping others in need. In the context of the Department’s 200 million interactions with Australians each year, these small improvements matter and support better outcomes for more Australians. 

Back to Resource Centre