Press release

Government's nudge unit goes global

The UK government 'nudge unit' is to sell its expertise worldwide after saving the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A UK government team is to sell its expertise worldwide after saving the UK taxpayer millions of pounds.

The ‘nudge unit’ which develops ways to improve public services through individual decision-making has identified public savings of at least £300 million since its launch in 2010.

The methods of the unit, which is formally known as the Behavioural Insights Team, have sparked interest from foreign governments and organisations interested in adopting its cost effective techniques.

The ‘nudge unit’ has already worked successfully on government policy:

  • Helping the UK Courts Service to increase the number of fine payments through use of personalised text message prompts, reducing the number of bailiff interventions by 150,000 and generating around £30 million of annual savings
  • Improving tax increase payment rates by 15 percentage points by telling late taxpayers that most people in their town had already paid - again generating £30 million of extra revenue annually

The team has now agreed partnerships with the government of New South Wales, Australia and a local housing association and will continue its ground-breaking work across Whitehall.

Announcing the plans, Minister without Portfolio Grant Shapps MP 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.

Notes to editors

The Behavioural Insights Team or ‘nudge unit’ will now be able to provide services to other governments and bodies, on a charge-for basis, where there is a clear social purpose.

The unit was set up for an initial period of 2 years in July 2010, with the aim of making services easier to use, encouraging and supporting people to make better choices and saving the taxpayer money.

It was set 3 objectives up to its Sunset Review, which has just concluded. They were:

  • transforming 2 major areas of policy
  • spreading understanding of behavioural insights across government
  • achieving at least a 10-fold return on the cost of the team

The review found that the team had met these objectives and the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary concluded that on the basis of its success the team should continue to operate, with greater freedoms and flexibilities to respond to the growing demand for the application of behavioural insights, both within and outside government. For example, the team has:

  • Helped the Courts Service increase the number of fine payments made by six times through use of personalised text message prompts, which will reduce the number of bailiff interventions by 150,000 and generate around £30 million of annual savings
  • Shown that telling late tax payers that most people in their town had already paid their tax increases payment rates by around 15 percentage points and will generate £30 million of extra revenue to the Exchequer annually.

2 pieces of work will shortly commence in partnership with:

The government of New South Wales, Australia, to embed insights from behavioural sciences across a range of public policy priorities; and Freebridge Housing Association, to use behavioural sciences in the development of housing in Kings Lynn.

Since 2010, the Unit has achieved savings of more than 20 times its cost and identified specific interventions that will save at least £300 million over the next 5 years.

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.

Tony Hall, Chief Executive of Freebridge Community Housing, said:

The regeneration of Hillington Square is a huge project for us, our tenants and the wider community and will transform this well-known estate for the benefit of existing and future tenants.

We are committed to bringing sustainable and significant change not only to the buildings but also to the community, encouraging people to live and behave well within Hillington Square. To support us to do this, we are delighted to have enlisted the services of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team.

The Behavioural Insights Team is a world leader in its field. Its members are experts whose knowledge on this subject is second to none and we want to learn from the team and gain their insight into this project.

We believe that our tenants deserve the best which is why we are looking forward to working with the team that we believe is the best in this field. We very much look forward to working with the team and delivering a programme which will change behaviours within Hillington Square.

The latest annual update of the Behavioural Insights Team’s work can be found here.

Published 20 September 2012