Don’t Pay UK: Why are the British boycotting energy payments and what are the consequences?

More than 1.7 million UK households plan to stop paying their energy bills next month when the price cap jumps by 80%, according to a new study.

The majority say they are inspired by Don’t Pay UK, a grassroots movement with a simple call to action: cancel your direct debit from October 1.

It aims to convince a million people that a collective strike for non-payment is the best way to force the government and the energy giants to rethink. With 6% of the population on board according to the Opinium Research survey – extrapolated to 3.16 million people, or 1.7 million households – they appear to be on the right track.

Although the country is divided over the campaign, no one disputes that the bills are shockingly rising.

Gas and electricity regulator Ofgem has already allowed suppliers to increase the maximum amount they can charge customers each year by 54 percent in February, in response to soaring gasoline prices. From now on, the average gas and electricity bill will reach an unprecedented amount of £3,549 (€4,198) compared to £1,971 (€2,331) per year.

If it goes back up in January as expected, studies show that nearly two-thirds of UK households will be pushed into fuel poverty, spending more than 10% of their income on energy.

Over 133,500 people have registered online so far Do not pay in the UK is accelerating.

Local organizers have been doing their part to spread the word for weeks, distributing leaflets and talking to people in their communities. This puts them in a unique position to take the temperature of a population nervously watching winter.

Who participates in Don’t Pay?

When Sheila*, 39, went door-to-door on Sheffield’s high street, she was struck by the fact that everyone – from charity shop volunteers to librarians, business owners, baristas and walkers – at least took a flyer.

“Even if they disagreed with the ‘Don’t Pay’ premise or had questions about it, each person was really, really worried about their bills,” she says.

“A lot of people are saying they can’t afford them already… The librarian told us that people are already using the library to keep warm and she’s really scared of what’s going to happen this winter .

Every year around 10,000 people die from living in freezing houses according to the charity National Energy Action (NEA) – from heart attacks, strokes, bronchitis and other serious illnesses the cold brings or exacerbates.

While British families are expected to face gas and electricity bills almost three times higher that everything that has happened since the 1970s, the impact on people’s health and well-being will be even greater this year.

Businesses are closing due to skyrocketing energy bills

A small-business owner herself, Sheila (who declined to use her real name) is also concerned about the impact of rising bills on the “fragile ecosystem” of her industry. In the UK, 99% of businesses are classified as ‘small’ – those employing less than 50 people – but 75 percent of them are managed by only the owner.

“A recession is already predicted, but how bad is it going to be?” She wonders.

British newspapers are full of shops and restaurants forced to close because skyrocketing energy bills have already made them unprofitable.

Although Sheila may face the higher bill in October, at least for a few months, she is striking in solidarity for people who cannot pay now – and strategically.

“Rather than hundreds of thousands and millions of people unable to pay at different times, if we can all stand up and commit at the same time, it will send a very strong message that we need a more reasonable price. “, she says.

“We need to come together to make sure we’re not just open to naked profits.”

Is civil disobedience the solution?

Lewis Ford, an organizer from Hull, agrees the movement is “very much about solidarity”, especially for those who are forced to choose between heater their homes and feed their families.

“We are already talking about the idea of ​​setting up hot banks, which is an absolutely absurd idea,” the 31-year-old IT consultant told Euronews Green. “We are one of the richest nations. So it’s not like there’s no money, it’s the fact that the money is kept in one space.

The energy giants saw their profits soar, with BP raking in 8.2 billion euros between April and June – more than triple the amount it made in the same period last year – and Shell recording a record profit of 11.3 billion euros in July.

Meanwhile, National Grid, the company that controls the UK’s gas and power lines, reported a 107% rise in annual pre-tax profits in May. And British Gas owner Centrica has quintupled its profits over the past year.

“I just came to the end of my tether,” Lewis says of his decision to sign up. Three years from the next legislative elections, parliament is at a standstill while Conservative party hopes fight it. And with the government repressing demonstration“Civil disobedience is one of the last things we are capable of doing.”

“Not only has taking to the streets turned out to be almost completely ignored by this government,” adds Lewis, “it’s the energy companies that are making profits on us, and so it makes sense for me to harm their profits.”

Like many Don’t Pay supporters, he looks back to the Poll Tax protests of the late 80s and 90s as an example of a successful don’t pay movement that ended unpopular politics.

Hull has some of the highest rates of Fpopulation poverty in the UK, the response to the campaign has therefore been positive, says Lewis. “We are a low-income city, a post-industrial city, we have a lot of people from poorer backgrounds who have struggled over the past 12 years and beyond. We are a disjointed group, we tend to defend ourselves.

Although he’s concerned about taking action, the father-of-two says he’s more worried about what will happen if he doesn’t, and the bills continue to mount. “Okay, I could get into debt, but I’m still going to get into debt. I will not be able to continue to pay these bills, and many others either.

What can happen if you don’t pay your energy bill?

Concerns about joining the movement are not unfounded. “It’s important to know that there can be serious consequences if you run up arrears,” says Gillian Cooper, head of energy policy at Advice to citizens.

Your energy supplier can put you on a prepayment meter or, in rare cases, even disconnect you. Non-payment of bills can also hurt your credit rating, making it harder to borrow money in the future.

Cooper advises: “If you are unable to meet the payments, there are rules that oblige your energy supplier to help you. If you talk to them, they may be able to offer you emergency credit or a more affordable payment plan.

However, the charity recognizes that many people are simply running out of options. “Every day we hear of people facing desperate choices because they are struggling to pay their energy bills,” says Cooper. “This campaign is another indicator of the pressures people are under. The government must act again and provide more financial support so that people can cope with spiraling costs. »

Don’t Pay UK organizers are sensitive to the different situations people may find themselves in. suppliers can impose penalties – and only after 28 days.

“Most of us want to pay our bills. I don’t think anyone wants to go on an indefinite strike,” she said. “What we want is to pay bills that do not impoverish us completely, plunge us into fuel poverty, prevent us from saving for the future.

“A lot of the conversation has been about the worst consequences possible, when really what we’re saying is, ‘Let’s not let it get to this point; advocate a fairer system.

How does the UK fuel crisis compare to what is happening in Europe?

The UK is far from the only European country struggling with energy issues following the post-COVID rebound and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It is less vulnerable than Germany, for example, with regard to the actual supply of gas. But the configuration of the British energy market plunges the British further into a cost of living crisis.

The country is highly exposed to high gas prices, CarbonBrief analysis shows that 85% of households use gas boilers to heat their homes and that around 40% of electricity is produced in gas-fired power stations.

Combined with this, the UK has the only fully privatized grid system in Europe outside of Portugal (where the government was forced to sell its stake during the country’s bailout in 2011).

While this may have once allowed consumers to seek out the best prices, there are no longer better prices and the price cap system that was first introduced in 2019 to protect households from fuel poverty. turned out to be far from a rigid defense. .

This means UK households face a 215% increase in average energy price changes between 2021 and 2022 – the highest on the continent – ​​compared to 23% in Germany and 4% in France.

While the French public electricity supplier EDF is on track to be fully renationalizedAcross the Channel, its UK branch hiked rates 54% in line with April’s price cap hike, and saw profits rise 200% from a year earlier.

With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that some organizations are redoubling their calls for public ownership of the energy system. Don’t Pay UK, with its unique purpose, is not one of them.

But Mat Lawrence, director of UK think tank Common Wealth, says the “desperate action” by those wanting to cancel their direct debits this autumn shows more needs to be done.

“Our leaders must realize the magnitude of this crisis,” he said. “That’s why we need urgent and sweeping action to protect living standards and keep the lights on this winter. The case for freezing energy bills and taking over the energy system from the state is clearer than ever. »

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