Bad English Costs UK Government £800 Million

Wasting £20 billion on a flawed new computer system is unfortunate. But to lose £800 million because of poorly written leaflets is simply inexcusable. A recent report has found that poor wording and incomprehensible language in UK government literature is creating a huge dent in public finances.

The committee found that leaflets produced by the Department for Work and Pensions, designed to help people make benefit claims, failed to use plain English and used 14 different terms for the word ‘payment’. Just being able to make sense of some of the convoluted terminology also required a reading age above the national average. Many people struggled to understand the questions; consequently they submitted incorrect forms, costing taxpayers millions.

Writing clearly and concisely should be one of a writer’s primary aims. It is the writer’s duty to be able to communicate through their words, particularly when you’re providing crucial advice to the general public.

“Where leaflets contain information which is inaccurate, out-of-date or impossible to understand, then the consequences can be serious indeed,” observed Edward Leigh, the committee chairman.

It would appear that the Department for Work and Pensions didn’t deem it necessary to employ a professional copywriter. Perhaps they thought they could save valuable funds for the Christmas party by writing the leaflets themselves, or posting the job on a freelance bidder website? The quote they may have received of $200 for 20 leaflets probably no longer seems like such good value for money.

Only 81 of the DWP’s 178 leaflets passed the Plain English Campaign’s Crystalmark for comprehensibility. But at least now they appear to have learnt from their mistake.

“We have a duty to communicate with all our customers to make sure they are aware of their benefit entitlements,” said a spokesman for the DWP. He added that from now on, “The leaflets will all be tested with customers and submitted for the Crystal Mark before they are published.”

Organisations often believe that they only require a professional copywriter for their sales letters, email campaigns or brochure style website. But just being able to write in a clear, concise and lucid fashion doesn’t come easily to everybody.

As this particularly expensive case study has shown, employing a professional copywriter might seem like an extravagant expense, but will pay for itself by improving the impact and response to your organisation’s words.

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