What is in a form? Examining the complexity of application forms and administrative burden
Analysis of the welfare state emphasises that access to social security support is a key component of the relationship between the state and the citizen. Recent literature has identified administrative burden as a concept that helps us to understand an emerging dynamic between the state and the citizen, where citizens must deal with increasingly onerous administrative ‘costs’ in order to access services or support from the state. Increased administrative burden has been identified at many stages of access to social security support and government services. Burdens are often talked about in general terms, that is, the amount of administrative complexity associated with a particular welfare service. In this paper, we look at how administrative burden can be found in even the smallest unit of administration—application forms. Taking a form from the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), we contribute to the growing literature on application forms and administrative burden by developing a framework to assess the complexity of questions on an application form. We show that in areas where citizens lives are complex, questions on forms can constrain the capacity of citizens to accurately represent their circumstances and, in turn, constrain their ability to gain access to support.