Can we fight rising energy prices by refusing to pay our bills?

4 mins
22 Jul 2022
Can we fight rising energy prices by refusing to pay our bills?

New campaign urges UK citizens to join the protest from 1 October

image Jonas McIlwain

words Eve Walker

The cost of living crisis is upon us and it’s all too easy to get caught in a spiral of worry and angst. You could be wondering if you’ll have to one day choose between heating your living room or cooking dinner in the oven, or dreading the awkward conversation with housemates on higher salaries who love to keep the heating on all night.

In April, energy bills shot up by around 50%, preventing 6.5 million people from being able to heat their homes adequately. To put that into perspective, that is almost a quarter of all UK households. Gas has gone up a whopping four times since last summer, but unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Energy prices are expected to rise even further, reaching an average of £2,000 to £3,000 a year in October, leaving another two million people at risk of fuel poverty.

But there is power in protest. The Don’t Pay campaign is urging people to cancel their direct debits from 1 October. Here’s the thing – the strike will only go ahead if one million people pledge their support.

After heading to the pub for outrageously overpriced pints (since when did it cost almost seven quid for a beer?) a group of friends decided it was time to take charge and do something about the rising costs of living. Jess, one of the campaign organisers, told Dazed, “We are all socially and class-conscious people who often discuss and make plans to respond to what we see as oppressive economic violence meted out on working-class people”.

The idea of Don’t Pay is pretty simple. If the Government goes ahead as planned with the next steep hike on 1 October, then the campaign threatens a pay strike. If just one million people stop paying their bills on 1 October, energy companies will be at risk of serious trouble and so feel seriously obliged to lobby the Government for a reduction of energy bills.

You might be thinking the campaign is wishful thinking, but similar protests have proven successful in the past. The Poll Tax Rebellion of 1989 and 1990 saw 17 million refuse to pay their poll tax – and in 1991 the abolition of Poll Tax was announced.

Thanks to social media, protests and campaigns can spread faster than you can drink that pint. If enough of us share the word and pledge our support, it is not unreasonable to expect an impact.

Jess explains that it is vital that we believe in each other, getting as many of us to participate as possible, “There are 28 million households with electric and gas supplies in the UK. At least 1 million people are already in arrears – i.e. people who can’t pay. This number will increase massively as we get towards the winter — average energy bills will have tripled since last summer.” Our country desperately needs to show solidarity with the people who are already in or at serious risk of poverty.

How can you help?

Gather and organise. Hand out flyers (you can purchase 500 leaflets for just a fiver, or 50 stickers for £2. Tell your friends, family, co-workers – anyone who will listen. Join the organiser list on the Don’t Pay website, and help the movement grow – strength is absolutely in numbers.

And if the Government doesn’t listen? Cancel your direct debit on 1 October.

UPDATE: Many people have been worried about the risk of jeopardising their credit score by cancelling their direct debits. A new reel has surfaced encouraging people to raise complaints in a way that will seriously financially hurt energy companies, without affecting their credit scores. Essentially, if you raise a complaint and refuse to close it, you will eventually get an option to go to the Energy Ombudsman, and the company then will be fined £500. There are limitations on how many complaints can be open and how quickly the company replies to them, and if they surpass this limit they will be fined even more.

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