In praise of the post for public sector communication campaigns

old Irish post box
The lack of a database of homeowners is making collection of the new Household Charge difficult for the Irish government.

Saturday 31 March 2012 sees the deadline for all Irish homeowners to pay the first household charge.

As part of the terms of Ireland’s EU/IMF bailout, the €100 levy is being uniformly applied to all of Ireland’s 1.6 million owned residential properties, bringing in €160 million in tax revenue.  Ireland is one of the few remaining EU countries that doesn’t currently collect local taxes to fund local services.

Or that is the theory.

The Irish government is relying primarily on the media to notify homeowners of the details of the new, controversial charge, including the various payment deadlines, what fees are due and how they can be paid.

Homeowners will not be sent a bill or receive any kind of demand for payment.  Indeed, the state does not have a central database of all properties and is currently discussing ways it may access utility operators’ records with the Data Commissioner in order to enforce the charge.

As of 5pm today just 18% of all households have paid the charge.

While the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign gathers force the speculation is now on how many of homeowners will register and pay, ahead of the 31 March deadline.

As public sector information campaigns go it is curious to see what communication methods have been used and how effective they will be in encouraging payment of the charge.  There are no TV ads, radio campaigns, billboard or bus stop adverts.  No door drops or direct mail letters. 

And there have been no bills received by home owners (there can’t be, there is no database).

Instead, homeowners are relied upon to do the decent thing and self register to pay the charge next week. This is a gamble – the charge is unpopular, finding a spare €100 is a real struggle for many, the ways to pay are not ubiquitious (post offices can’t accept the payment) and, for the moment at least, the penalties for none payment are not huge.

And for the government, relying on the media to accurately disseminate key messages is also a gamble.  Media reports of a rumoured deadline extension have been eagerly greeted today.

With ten days to go before an estimated 1 million home owners don’t pay the household charge the campaign for the collection of the fee that’s been executed so far neatly demonstrates, if it were needed, just how pivotal a role data, databases, data protocols and letter boxes play in public sector communication campaigns.

For many, unless a bill lands on the doormat, then the charge is not real and is therefore all to easy to ignore.

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