What is Don't Pay UK?
Don’t Pay UK is a non-payment campaign encouraging Britons to cancel their direct debit payments and withhold payment on their household energy bills. This is in response to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis in the UK and multiple increases on the energy price cap this year.
Prime Minister Liz Truss announced in September that from October 1 the new Energy Price Guarantee will be capped at an average of £2,500 per year, for households on typical use. This was after the announcement by Ofgem in August that the price cap for average households would be capped at £3,549. Last winter, average household typical use was £1,277.
Currently the movement has received over 190,000 signatures, and although the campaign’s website mentions that they will strike from October 1, it also says they will not take action until one million pledges are received.
It’s incredibly worrying knowing that people are going to struggle this winter after an already significantly tough year, and people must decide for themselves whether they want to take part in the campaign. However, there are risks involved in participating in a non-payment campaign – and when there are potential risks, you need to know what you’re signing yourself up for and the consequences involved.
Let’s explore what it’s going to mean for you if you choose to take part.
What is a non-payment campaign?
A non-payment campaign is when people collectively choose to refuse to pay a bill or charge on a large scale. The Don’t Pay UK organisers take inspiration from the 1990 Poll Tax resistance, where which 17 million people refused to pay the charge introduced by the Margaret Thatcher government. In March 1991 the Poll Tax (also known as The Community Charge) was abolished, however in 1993 Council Tax was introduced as a replacement.
What happens if you stop paying energy bills?
The answer depends on how you currently pay your energy bills and which supplier you are contracted with, but here’s an overview.
- You could incur penalty fees for cancelling your direct debit and should check your supplier’s website if this applies.
- You could also incur late fees for not paying your bills on time, likely ranging from £10 - £20.
- Most energy providers offer direct debit as the cheapest way to pay, so if you cancel this, your bills may increase slightly. According to Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis, you could save up to 6% on direct debit.
- Unpaid bills are a form of debt – left ignored you could be referred to a debt collection agency.
- If you haven’t paid your bills for a significant amount of time, your provider will contact you with alternatives to pay such as a payment plan, however if you continue to refuse to pay you may be switched to a prepayment meter, although your provider would first need to ensure it is safe to do this and you must first be given a chance to make your payments.
- If you cannot come to an agreement with your supplier, they can apply for a warrant to enter your home and disconnect you. And although stopping your supply connection is rare, it is possible.
- Your credit score will also be affected negatively. For example, impacting your likelihood or ease of getting a mortgage, being accepted as a rental tenant, or even getting a mobile phone plan. This list is not exhaustive either, and your credit could be affected for up to six years as missed payments are recorded on your credit file for six years.
- The company could also file with a court to get a County Court Judgement (CCJ) against you. In Scotland this is known as a decree.
You may get a county court judgment or high court judgment if someone takes court action against you - saying you owe them money - and you do not respond. (Gov.uk, 2022)
At the end of the day, it is entirely your decision whether to participate or not, depending on how strongly you feel about the campaign whilst weighing up the risks involved. We encourage you to explore all your options with your energy provider before making a decision.
Other ways to protest the energy crisis
Knowing the potential implications of withholding payment, we’d like to offer financially responsible alternatives to protest the energy crisis.
- Sign petitions. There are many online campaigns and petitions growing momentum that you can get behind. Fuel Poverty Action has over half a million signatures on their #EnergyForAll campaign.
- Write to your local MPs and councillors. The written word is very powerful and shouldn’t be underestimated. Find your local MP and send an email or letter.
- Attend rallies and protests. Many lobby groups including Don’t Pay UK are organising peaceful protests for crowds to attend. A new campaign #WarmThisWinter has also launched this summer and is providing the public with more ways to end fuel poverty.
- Contact your supplier. They have a responsibility to help you if you are struggling to pay your bills. If you feel they are not helping sufficiently with your situation, you can escalate as a final resort to the Energy Ombudsman, who is approved by Ofgem to handle disputes between consumers and energy suppliers.
Finally, know that there is additional support available, especially if you are in a vulnerable household. Citizen’s Advice has put together grant and benefit resources to help you pay your bills. You can also visit Gov.uk to find the energy bill support factsheet.