This is new – at least in the UK, as far as I know.

DVLA are entering people who renew their tax disc online or by phone into a draw to win a car – and moreover a car so efficient that it is not liable to car tax.

If I understand it right, they cannot make purchase of their service a condition of entry as that would fall foul of gambling law, so they have to offer a way of entering which is separate from the process of actually renewing a tax disc.  Having to do that gives them a way of heading off criticism that they are discriminating against people who still want to use the Post Office – which allows them to have their cake and eat it to an impressive degree.

I remember hearing accounts in the early days of e-government of something similar being run by the Victoria state government in Australia – with those who paid their property tax online being entered in a draw to have the whole lot paid back, but google can find little trace of how and when it worked.  In the UK, there have been incentives to switch channels, both directly through cash payments and less directly through later payment deadlines and so a cashflow advantage, but for central government at least, that’s as far as I am aware of its having gone.

The slightly defensive tone of the leaflet suggests that there was some concern that a lottery would be seen as unfair, but although DVLA issued a press release early in August, I can find no trace of any mainstream media coverage as a result.  The cost to DVLA must be minimal, since they are not even paying for the prizes, so on the face of it, this is a pretty low risk experiment.

In some ways what is most interesting about it is the timing.  This is not a move driven by weakness.  The online tax disc service is deservedly popular, and it’s the only government service I know which people enthusiastically recommend to their friends.

So how far might this approach be extensible?  More importantly, perhaps, for services which are less slick than tax disc renewal, how sustainable is it?  There is not much point in enticing people to try a service which just makes them think they don’t want to try it again.  And the way DVLA has done it also has some deadweight cost – my name goes in the draw despite the fact that I would have no hesitation in using the online service for another year anyway.  So it’s probably not quite time to start thinking of what I would do with a refund of a year’s income tax quite yet.