Information campaign on tax compliance, Estonia
In 2010 and 2011, information campaigns were instigated by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board with the aim of raising awareness among the population as to how taxpayers’ money is being used by the state. Both campaigns were assessed as successful in terms of visibility and raising awareness.
Lillemets (2009) has pointed out that the state should not only contribute to the administration and collection of taxes, but also concentrate on preventive measures, including shaping citizens’ tax behaviour. It is important to increase public awareness of the need to pay taxes (Lillemets, 2009). A survey from the second half of 2009, which also covered attitudes of the population towards payment of taxes, indicated that awareness of the services people receive from the state is relatively low: 26% of respondents did not know what kind of services they receive from the state, while around half of those (11%) said that they get nothing from the state. The same survey also indicated that voluntary tax payment could be increased by higher trust towards the state, increased awareness of the use of tax income and good relationships between the state and the citizen.
The aim of the information campaign was to raise awareness of how taxpayers’ money is being used by the state. The campaign explained why it is important to pay taxes and what each citizen receives in return. In 2009, Enriko Aav, the director general of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (Eesti Maksu- ja Tolliamet, EMTA), said, ‘With the information campaign we wish to make people think about why we pay taxes and hopefully raise understanding that paying taxes enables the state to function and provide social guarantees to its citizens.’ As pointed out above (see the ‘Background’ section), increased awareness should also result in improved tax behaviour and readiness to pay taxes voluntarily.
The information campaign, ‘Unpaid Taxes Will Leave a Mark’, was implemented in two parts. The first part of the campaign was conducted in nine Estonian cities during January and February 2010. The main message of the campaign was: ‘Unpaid taxes will leave a mark. You like highways in order, ambulances, efficient work of rescue workers and the police. So do we.’ For instance, a message was shown in the back of trolley buses together with a picture of rescue workers: ‘Should we take the trolley bus to an emergency call-out? This can happen if you do not pay your taxes.’
In addition, a thank you message was attached to rescue cars in Tallinn, Harju and Virumaa counties and ambulance cars in Tallinn saying that these cars had been bought with taxpayers’ money. The aim was to raise awareness of the objects that are financed from tax income and to bring forward the services that the citizens receive for their tax payments. Thus, even after the campaign ended, the notes are still visible in the city on rescue and ambulance cars.
The second part of the campaign was conducted in eight cities across Estonia during October 2011. The follow-up campaign kept the same main message, ‘Unpaid taxes will leave a mark’, although the sub-messages were geared towards social and cultural aspects. In addition, TV and radio commercials were added. For instance, in relation to the 100th anniversary of the Estonian film industry, a TV commercial was published saying that on account of the current tax arrears, 722 domestic films a year could be made instead of the current three films. Radio commercials concentrate on the number of computers that could be bought for children and outdoor commercials point out that 295 new kindergartens could be built. The messages are socially relevant and related to the Estonian context – the lack of childcare opportunities and kindergarten places is an acute problem, especially in the capital, Tallinn.
The information campaign was initiated and financed by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board.
In the 2010 campaign, the Ministry of Interior Affairs (Siseministeerium) participated as a partner of the campaign (in relation to the participation of ambulance and rescue services) (see also ‘Specific measures’ above).
Outcome of evaluations; lessons and conclusions
Achievement of objectives
The general aim was to increase awareness of how taxpayers’ money is used, and through this, improve tax behaviour and willingness to pay taxes voluntarily. However, it is difficult to have an impact on the attitudes of taxpayers through such a short campaign. This could be measured in the longer term. Furthermore, it is difficult to measure impact on tax behaviour – for example, whether the change in behaviour was a result of the information campaign or some other factor.
However, as a more immediate impact, the visibility of the campaign was measured as well as how people remembered the messages of the campaign and their assessment of the campaign. The campaign was regarded as successful in those respects – it was relatively well noticed and the average score was good compared to other state and educational campaigns. Also, it has been pointed out that the follow-up campaign was effective in confirming the campaign message and making people think about why we pay taxes and raise understanding that paying taxes helps the state to function and provide social guarantees to people (Tax and Customs Board, 2011b).
Obstacles and problems
As pointed out above, it is difficult to measure an increase in the awareness of the population on the necessity of paying taxes and the use of taxpayers’ money. Thus, one of the problems is measuring the impact of the campaign on the objectives.
The campaign was relatively well noticed (see also ‘Impact indicators’ below). To confirm the message of the campaigns, a similar message on the use of tax money could be used in the future as well.
The visibility of both parts of the information campaign was measured by JCDecaux. It was concluded that the first part of the campaign was best received by 31–50-year-old men, of whom 62% remembered the campaign in the capital, Tallinn, mainly based on the posters on the street. In addition, men of ethnic minorities and managers and specialists remembered the campaign better than the average. Compared to other social, state and educational campaigns, the average results for the ‘Unpaid Taxes Will Leave a Mark’ information campaign was relatively good.
The second part of the campaign was noticed by 59% of the respondents aged 15–74. Considering that the average share for different campaigns is 45%, the results are relatively good. The largest share of people who noticed the campaign was among 51–59-year-olds who use the public transport system. 78% of all people who use public transport remembered the campaign. The share was also higher among ethnic minorities (62%). Compared to the first part of the campaign, the share of respondents who remembered the campaign had increased in almost all groups.
The respondents considered the main message of the campaign to be that the maintenance of the state is the responsibility of all citizens. 65% of the respondents found that the commercial was suitable for increasing awareness of unpaid taxes. The messages of the campaign were found most suitable by Estonians (79%) and the 60–74 age group (83%). A large part of the respondents also found that the topic is emotionally effective.
Conducting an extensive information campaign to raise awareness of the need to pay taxes and the services received for taxpayers’ money is easily transferrable into different contexts. At the same time, to achieve impact among the population and raise visibility, the messages used must be context-specific and relevant for the audiences. Thus, the contents of the campaign must consider the local context where it is implemented.
Estonian Tax and Customs Board: www.emta.ee/?lang=en
European Commission (2007), Undeclared work in the European Union, special Eurobarometer 284.
Estonian Institute of Economic Research (2012) Varimajandus Eestis 2011 (elanike hinnangute alusel [Undeclared economy in Estonia 2011 based on the assessment of the population], Estonian Institute of Economic Research, Tallinn.
Kuhi, M. (2007), ‘Varimajandus Eestis 2000–2006’ [‘Undeclared economy in Estonia 2000–2006’], Statistics Estonia Thematic Paper 3/2007, available at http://www.stat.ee/20254.
Lillemets, K. (2009), ‘Maksumoraal maksukäitumise kujundajana ja selle peamised isikupõhised mõjutegurid’ [‘Tax moral as the main designer of tax behaviour and its main individual level impact factors’], Working Papers Series of the Parliament 20, available at http://www.riigikogu.ee/rito/index.php?id=14002&op=archive2.
Tax and Customs Board (2010), ‘Information campaign “Unpaid taxes will leave a mark” begins’, press release, 25 January, available at http://www.emta.ee/index.php?id=27074&tpl=1026.
Tax and Customs Board (2011a), ‘Information campaign “Unpaid taxes will leave a mark” continues’, press release, 10 October, available at http://www.emta.ee/index.php?id=27073.
Tax and Customs Board (2011b), ‘Survey of remembering the outdoor commercial of the information campaign that took place in October’, press release, 28 November, available at http://www.emta.ee/index.php?id=31424.
Kirsti Nurmela, Praxis Centre for Policy Studies