Support surges for campaigners urging non-payment of energy bills
Support for a UK campaign group urging consumers to cancel direct debits on their energy bills is doubling “every week” amid growing public anger over rising domestic fuel prices.
Don’t Pay UK, launched six weeks ago, said 70,000 people had promised to stop their direct debits from October 1, when a major surge in utility bills will take place.
With local groups promoting its campaign in cities such as London, Brighton, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield, it said it had received requests from base organizers for 1.6 million flyers, while its Twitter followers have seen more than one in the past. then tripled from 22,000 to 79,000 weeks.
However, consumer and charitable groups have warned consumers that ending direct debits could force them into more expensive prepayment meters or hurt their creditworthiness.
“If you cancel your direct debit, . . . take you out of an existing payment plan [such as a fixed-rate tariff or debt repayment plan] and you lose your discount and add 7 to 8 percent to the utility bill,” said Gemma Hatvani, founder of the Facebook group Energy Support and Advice UK.
Hatvani’s group is campaigning for the government to provide more targeted aid to lower-income households, but fears a non-payment protest would threaten people’s finances.
“If you can’t pay your bills, it’s better to contact your energy supplier. If you have no debt, even though companies don’t advertise it, asking to switch to variable debit means you only pay for the energy you use each month and you can try to lower bills by reducing your usage .”
Energy regulator Ofgem will announce the next update of the price cap at the end of August. In May, after Ofgem said there were early indications that the energy price cap would rise to £2,800 from £1,971, the government announced a £15 billion bailout package.
But as gas prices have surged in recent weeks, energy consultancy Cornwall Insight predicted the cap could exceed £3,300 – and over £3,600 from January, when the next review is due.
National Energy Action, a charity, says 8 million households in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are at risk of fuel poverty.
Bumper gains at energy groups have fueled public anger over domestic bills. BP this week reported its highest quarterly profit in 14 years and announced a 10 percent increase in its dividend. Shell reported last week that it had broken profit records for the second consecutive quarter.
Becky from West Dunbartonshire, a Don’t Pay supporter, told the FT: “My utility bill is £217 [and is] up again in October, so I pay more for my energy than for my mortgage.”
The campaign group has compared its calls for mass non-payment of utility bills to the refusal of millions to pay the top prize in the 1980s, which helped to end it. Still, experts said there were differences that had important implications for consumers.
“If you cancel your direct debit, suppliers will . . . start the collection process,” said Matthew Cole, founder of the Fuel Bank Foundation, a charity that issues vouchers to people who are struggling to pay on prepayment meters. “If you have a smart meter, it can be switched to prepayment remotely,” he said, although suppliers require a magistrate’s order to do so.
UK households will receive the £400 government subsidy for energy bills in six monthly installments from October, with households on benefits getting extra help. Campaigners say this won’t be enough for those struggling to pay.
Don’t Pay said: “The government can intervene at any time between now and October 1 to avoid the catastrophe that awaits millions this winter.”