The government has accused activists of being “highly irresponsible” in calling for mass non-payment of energy bills
Activists are trying to orchestrate what could be the biggest consumer strike in UK history unless the expected October energy tariff hike is reversed.
Money saving expert Martin Lewis has called on the government to “get a handle on the situation”, while a spokesman for the Department of Corporate Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) called the campaign “highly irresponsible”.
What is the Don’t Pay Energy Bills campaign?
The campaign was launched by members of the public who are frustrated by rising energy costs.
The Don’t Pay campaign has engaged thousands of people across the UK to act as ‘organizers’, handing out leaflets and spreading the word to friends and acquaintances.
After rising by around £800 earlier this year, the price cap on energy bills set by Ofgem – the government’s energy market regulator – is set to rise again by a similar amount in October.
Ofgem is expected to announce the October price cap level on August 26, although analysts had forecast a significant increase.
The cap rose 54% to £1,971 in April but could reach as high as £3,200 later this year.
The government claims that nothing can be done to prevent energy prices for consumers from rising as wholesale gas prices have risen significantly around the world, in part due to the war in Ukraine.
However, many have pointed to record profits by major fossil fuel companies such as Shell and BP, which ultimately supply the main domestic energy companies, as evidence that price increases are being driven, at least in part, by excessive profits.
The Don’t Pay campaign is demanding that at least a million people pledge not to pay their energy bills, and likens their efforts to the widespread refusal to pay the poll tax introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, first in Scotland in 1989 and England and Wales from 1990.
Millions of people refused to register and pay the new flat tax, which was widely seen as unfair to low-income earners.
After a series of high-profile protests and widespread opposition to the tax, including non-payment campaigns, the poll tax was finally abolished in 1992 by John Major’s Conservative government.
A BEIS spokesman said: “This is a highly irresponsible message that ultimately only drives up prices for everyone else and hurts personal creditworthiness.
“We recognize that global inflationary pressures are weighing on household finances and people are struggling. That is why the Government has allocated an extraordinary £37 billion to help households during these challenging times, including £1200 each for 8 million of the most vulnerable households.”
What is the government doing about rising energy prices?
Back in May, Rishi Sunak announced millions of households would receive a £400 rebate on their energy bills as part of a wider package to ease the cost of living crisis.
Eight million low-income households will benefit from the payment, which will be paid in two lump sums – one starting in July and the other starting in the fall.
Mr Sunak said it will give vulnerable people “the reassurance that we are by their side during this challenging time”, but added that the government would also provide “general” support.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston show, Martin Lewis acknowledged there was a “huge movement” of people demanding “mass non-payment” of energy bills.
He said: “The big movement I’m seeing is an increase in people demanding non-payment of energy bills, mass non-payment.
“Essentially a strike by consumers on energy bills and the removal of the legitimacy to pay them.
He added: “We need government to get a grip on this because once it becomes socially acceptable not to pay energy bills, people will stop paying energy bills and you won’t cut everyone.”
What happens if you don’t pay your energy bills?
The government has warned that refusing to pay energy bills could leave households indebted and affect personal creditworthiness.
The Don’t Pay campaign has stipulated that those with prepaid meters cannot participate in the consumer strike as they will simply be cut off once their balance reaches 0.
For those who do not have prepayment meters, energy companies could interrupt supply for non-payment, although this is rare and likely would not happen immediately if payment is not made at the usual time.
Activists say they won’t go ahead with the retail defaults unless enough people sign up, as it wouldn’t have enough impact and would put people at risk of going into debt with no chance of making a difference.
In a statement to her websiteDon’t Pay said energy consumers are “individuals, families and households whose energy bills are increasing.”
“It’s not unrealistic to say that we could reach 1 million people to start a payments strike. The potential leverage is enormous.”
“Assuming 1 million people, we can withhold £230million for 28 days before energy companies can take action. And then we can keep a further £230m a month – potentially even more if the weather gets colder in the winter and we use more energy. Possibly even more as more people join the strike.”
An Ofgem spokesman said: “We know this is an incredibly difficult time for many people whose bills are increasing due to very high wholesale gas prices.
“We will continue to work with the Government and the energy sector to try to mitigate the impact of these increases as much as possible, including by assisting in the implementation of the Government’s Energy Bill Support Scheme.”