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Professor of Geography at Aberystwyth University

Tax and the Path to Inner Peace

The UK Goverment’s HM Revenue and Customs are currently running a new marketing camapaign. The campaign has been designed to promote the timely completion of self-assessment tax returns and payments. What is interesting about the campaign is that in addition to emphazing the rational threat of the £100 fine that faces those who are late filing their tax, it also reflects upon the “inner peace” that is to be gained from the completion of the tax return process. According to HMRC, ‘The campaign has been developed to touch on the emotions that HMRC found people typically experience after they have filled in their tax return, often described as a real sense of relief or peace of mind – like a weight being lifted from their shoulders’.

This “inner peace campaign” is one of a series of attempts that is being made by HMRC to use the insights of the new behavioural sciences to secure the collection of tax revenue. The UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team has previously worked with HMRC to trial the use of tax repayment letters that emphasize the social norm of tax arrears payment (see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/60537/Behaviour-Change-Insight-Team-Annual-Update_acc.pdf). What is, of course, novel about this campaign is its use of a more meditative message of the deeper forms of happinness that follow the self assessment tax process. The campign is smart to the extent that it seeks to address the tendency of people to procrastinate when facing a complex and potentially expensive tax return process, by offering the hope of a happier future when all the paperwork has been completed. It is to be hoped that the broader insights that meditative practice can offer with regard to the nature and regulation of human behaviour are also realized and utilized within government sponsored behavioural initiatives.


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