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Improving government confirmation processes using SMS

Partner agencies: 
Department of Human Services
Registration date: 
Friday, 3 March 2017

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.

Authors: Professor Michael J. Hiscox, Scott Copley, Jacqui Brewer, Andrei Turenko, and James Wilson.

Pre-registration information

Parents within the Child Support Program can apply for a Change of Assessment (CoA) when they experience a change in their circumstances that might affect their child support payments or entitlements. This is done by lodging an application with the Department of Human Services (DHS).

The aim of the study is to examine whether providing timely and salient information about the receipt and process of a claim improves process transparency and saves client time and effort by reducing the need for calls to check on the status of applications. It will also free up DHS Service Officers to respond to other client calls.

Additional trial information

Intervention start and end date: Tuesday, 07 March 2017

BETA ethics pre-registration number: BETA ETH 2017 - 010

Experimental design: 2-arm Randomised Controlled Trial.

Approximately 2,400 participants are expected to be enrolled in the trial during a 6-week period. Participants will be randomised into either intervention (new communication strategies) or control condition.

Data (number of telephone calls) will be collected daily until all participants in the trial have been allocated to a decision-maker.

Intervention(s): SMS communication from DHS to inform applicants that their application has been received and that someone will contact them once their application has progressed.

Control condition: Treatment as usual


Primary: Number of telephone calls to Child Support about the progress of Change of Assessment applications.

Secondary: Time between form lodgement and telephone call to Child Support regarding assessment form.

Expected sample size: Approximately 2,400


Hiscox, Michael. 2017. Increasing transparency of government processes using SMS messaging. AEA RCT Registry. March 07.