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Nudge nudge

Nudging and charity.

New Statesman
Wink wink. Photograph: Getty Images

Reading, yesterday morning, about the success of the "Nudge Unit" (the government’s Behavioural Insight Team) in a pilot study which showed that three times more money goes to charity in people's wills when the lawyer writing the will prompts them, I relived the moment on Monday when my daughter and I thundered passed Mo Farah at the 2K mark in the BUPA 10K run through central London.

Admittedly, Mr Farah was heading in the other direction and on the point of finishing, but that didn't detract from my recollection of the atmosphere and the enormous range of charities and good causes for whom 11,000 or so other runners  were raising funds.

I wondered how many of us amateur athletes had been "nudged" into fundraising on this occasion, by whom, and indeed to which other issues the unit could be directed.

After all, it's not only the charities and their causes which benefit ultimately - the government is also a winner. As we were reminded at the launch of the Big Society, the government is relieved of funding the services provided by the charities, albeit at the relative cost of the fiscal incentives for those who give and receive. 

In addition to charities as a group, HMRC itself has already benefited from intervention by the Nudge Unit. Apparently, warning letters to those who had thus far failed to file tax returns were substituted with the missives observing that others in their area had already paid their tax – with a resultant 15 per cent increase in repayment rates. 

But what about professional advisers themselves, the solicitors or tax advisers through whom the Nudge Unit worked its philanthropic magic?

If the intoduction of the General Anti Abuse Rule wasn't a form of nudge (not to promote schemes which exploit loopholes in the tax legislation), I'm not sure what is - although a nudge possibly more akin to that which the playground bully might give to encourage the small child clutching a bag of sweets to hand them over.

I am pleased to report that I resisted the temptation to nudge the groups of runners whose fancy dress costumes acted more as a barrier than a promotion for their causes, but who will be the conscience for the Nudge Unit in future?

It is the first governmental policy team to be part-privatised and apparently the government is looking for a business partner to take it into the private sector. Less Big Brother and more the hired muscle?

Nevertheless, in the spirit of nudging, this was the cause I was running for: www.justgiving.com/sophie-and-midge

Sophie Mazzier is counsel at private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

This story first appeared on Spears Magazine

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