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This paper presents the findings of two natural field experiments that were conducted in collaboration with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The first experiment tests the effect of changes to letters on businesses paying the correct amount of tax. The second experiment consists of two parts. The first part aims to raise awareness of the relevance of tax debt payment by changing internal guidelines used by field auditors. The second part focuses on studying the effect of changing the phone script used by desk auditors to facilitate payment arrangements and simplifying a follow-up letter. While the first experiment had no effects on any of the outcome measures considered, the results of the second experiment indicate that changing the phone script of desk auditors and simplifying the letter reduced the proportion of default assessments raised by the ATO by 69 percent, suggesting that businesses are responsive to certain types of nudges.
5 Conclusion and Discussion
This paper presents the results obtained from two natural field experiments that were conducted in collaboration with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). The first trial was designed to test the effect of four non-deterrence interventions (modified versions of a letter that the ATO sends to businesses if their reported transactions vary considerably from normal business activity) on response rates, the timing of payments and the amount of payments of liabilities. Our empirical findings reveal that the four treatments (timing, social norms, change in color, warm glow) did not have a significant effect on any of the outcome measures considered in our analysis.
The aim of the second trial was to improve internal procedures and engagement strategies with taxpayers. The trial consists of two parts. The first part assesses the effect of changing internal guidelines used by field auditors to raise awareness of the relevance of tax debt payments. The second part focuses on studying the effect of changing the script that desk auditors use for phone conversations and simplifying a follow-up letter to businesses. Outcome variables include debt collection measures, the duration of case cycles, and a variable indicating whether a default assessment was raised by the ATO during the audit (which happens when businesses do not comply with their filing obligations and means high fines for the affected taxpayer).