Misunderstanding, emotion over taxes and a lack of knowledge about the Green Deal have contributed to a bad public image for consequential improvements

There’s something about this story about consequential improvements and the so-called ‘conservatory tax’ which has made it ‘sticky’ in the terminology of best selling business authors Chip and Dan Heath and journalist Malcolm Gladwell. The Heath brothers’ 2007 book ‘Made to Stick’ expands on the ‘stickiness’ idea which Malcolm Gladwell introduced in ‘The Tipping Point’ and dissects the elements which makes a story capture the imagination.

The phrase ‘conservatory tax’ is wholly inaccurate but it has captured the imagination of the press and their readers

Taxes, especially post-Budget, are an emotional topic and the thought that any more are being imposed piques the interest of the reader and makes them care.

The attack on conservatories also has an element of surprise – the fact that the government would want to tax something as innocuous and common as a conservatory hooks the reader. Why should their aspirations and outward expression of success be taxed? No wonder they are outraged.

Unfortunately the phrase ‘conservatory tax’ is wholly inaccurate but it has captured the imagination of the press and their readers - never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. As covered elsewhere, the facts are that conservatories are not going to be taxed, and the so-called ‘tax’ is currently out to consultation.

Those of us for which this is the third outing for consequential improvements may be suffering from the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ – the proposals make perfect sense and we’ve been through this numerous times – perhaps we’ve failed to communicate to the public the benefits and advantages in a way which makes them care and buy in?

One mistake may have been to link the consequential improvements to the Green Deal – Green Deal is still in its infancy and lacks both simplicity and a concrete base on which the story can be built. This will come in time as details are firmed up, but for now there may just have been too many gaps in the story.

Is there any way we could turn around this story using the ‘sticky’ framework? In these times of austerity, having a more energy efficient home makes financial sense, but how can we ‘sell’ the concept to the public to make it simply ‘what people like us do’?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I sincerely hope we get the chance to undo this mess and present the facts in a way which will help people embrace consequential improvements as an opportunity to improve their homes, rather than a penalty.

Mel Starrs is associate director at PRP Architects