The Distributive Effects of Administrative Burdens on Decision-Making

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Lucie Martin
Liam Delaney
Orla Doyle


administrative burdens, distributive effects, survey experiments, decision-making


Administrative burdens may discourage people, especially vulnerable groups, from acting in their own best interest. Most survey experiments focus on attitudes around burdens, while case studies and field interventions analyse specific groups or policy contexts. We test the distributive effects of administrative burdens on decision-making, using a pre-registered survey experiment with a diverse UK sample (n = 2,243). Participants are shown two scenarios, claiming a government benefit and a phone bill refund. They are randomly assigned to low or high-burden versions of each scenario. High-burden versions involve a lengthy process (compliance costs) or an unpleasant interaction with a government worker (psychological costs) for the benefit claim. For the refund claim, they involve added complexity or an uncertain delay. Participants report being significantly less likely to complete the claim when the burden is high. Being in poor health exacerbates this effect. However, there are no additional burdens for those experiencing financial scarcity. Age and gender effects are mixed. This study shows that administrative burdens negatively impact decisions, even in hypothetical scenarios which may under-estimate effects, and that some groups may be especially affected. Survey experiments such as this can be used to pre-test policies by assessing potential burdens and their impact.

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