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Accurate and honest declarations

Published on 22 January 2020

Choice architecture

As applicants progress through a form, often investing little mental effort, opportunities arise to nudge them towards truth and accuracy. This outcome will generally be in the best interests of both the applicants and the organisation. These nudges are a low cost and unobtrusive way to influence behaviour without denying individuals their freedom to choose. ‘Behavioural Insights’, as this science is more formally known, has demonstrated many successful interventions, achieving significant benefit both for public sector organisations and wider society.

The order in which options are listed can affect the choice selected by the applicant. Understanding that searching down a long list of options in a drop-down-box is progressively difficult to concentrate upon gives the choice architect the opportunity to place the options that present least risk to the organisation at the top of the list to increase their likelihood of selection. It may be more effective to highlight or embolden the font used in the default option.

It is important to state clearly, at the start of the application form, that the applicant is expected to provide true, accurate and complete information. Research has shown that more people are likely to be dishonest by omitting to provide information than when they have to provide false information because it is more difficult to maintain their moral self-image when providing false information (Mazar N, 2008). A clear statement requiring the whole truth makes salient to the applicant that deliberate ambiguity and the withholding of relevant information is not acceptable behaviour.

Whilst this opening statement should emphasise that there will be consequences of the applicant providing false information, care should be taken to avoid direct and accusatory language as research has shown that in some circumstances this can create an adversarial emotional response in the reader which is counterproductive.

Where the outcome of an application is reliant upon qualifying or exclusionary conditions, the placement of that information or reference to it is important. A review undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions of the Carers Allowance online claim form discovered that 5% of applicants ‘dropped out’ of the claim at the second last screen, where a series of complicated conditions formed part of the Disclaimer. This journey had taken the applicant on average 24 minutes.

The first change was to make the conditions easier to understand. The brevity and clarity achieved in the revised version is a significant improvement. The second step moved the qualifying/exclusionary conditions from the back of the form to the front and to provide exit points to allow the applicant to research more information on the website ‘GOV.UK’. Under the title ‘Fail Them Faster’ the review brought forward the dropouts from the last page to the first and increased overall completion rates by more than six per cent (Adams, 2015).