Self Assessment – Change without chaos

Principal Authors: Andy Nairn and Oliver Waterstone – MCBD
Contributing Author: Toby Nettle – PHD


Moira Stuart hiding under the stairs. This was the first comment made by many of the judges as soon as this paper was discussed. It's an exemplary case of how to communicate a simple message and create new behaviour saving the government millions in the process. For many years, HMRC had run a successful campaign, encouraging people to do their Self Assessment tax returns on time and online. Then the deadlines changed, for administrative reasons, meaning the public had to be re-educated. To avoid a chaotic transition, a new campaign was built on the strengths of the previous one, sharing the same supportive strategy, presenter format and ‘Tax doesn't have to be taxing’ line. A new presenter, Moira Stuart, was deployed to ensure the new information was presented in a clear and reassuring manner. With 93% of paper filers meeting the October deadline, and a record 69% of tax returns received online, HMRC gained the desired efficiencies, and generated a ROMI of c.£2:1. More surprisingly, taxpayers, accountants and the media hailed the changes in positive terms. Altogether this paper was deemed a worthy winner of the ‘Best Short-Term’ award, newly created to reflect papers that illustrate effective payback in the first year in which they run.