Voices: This is why I’m refusing to pay my energy bills, and you should too

·4-min read

When you’ve got level-headed, practical people like Martin Lewis begging the government to take action on energy bills, and the head of Scottish Power describing what’s going to happen in October as “horrific”, you know there’s a problem. A big problem.

This country is facing a harrowing winter. Many of us already can’t pay our bills and are faced with mounting costs across the board: energy, food, transport. Come October, it is estimated that one in three UK households will be plunged into fuel poverty – and by January, with the average energy bill potentially topping £500 a month, it could be 40 per cent. Meanwhile, companies like Shell, BP, and Centrica (which owns British Gas) are taking in record-breaking profits and paying out huge bonuses.

Don’t Pay UK is a grassroots movement of ordinary people seeking fair energy rates. The truth is, we want to pay our bills. We just believe it shouldn’t be at the cost of everything else. And we believe that if we stand together, we can put an end to this downward spiral that robs people of their livelihoods while making shareholders exceedingly rich.

The idea is quite simple: on 1 October, we will cancel our direct debits to our energy providers, en masse. By depriving them of their guaranteed income, we will show that ordinary people have the power to demand fair treatment. It is perfectly legal to cancel a direct debit, and it doesn’t prevent anyone from paying down the line. But it sends a strong message and opens up the potential for a renegotiation.

Let’s be very clear: fuel poverty is poverty. It means senseless death, particularly for the elderly and vulnerable. For many of us, it means making impossible choices. The choice between a shower and a cooked meal. The choice of which room to heat (if any). The choice between going home after a long day or finding a place to stay warm, such as the library or the bus. It means relying on schools to provide our children with hot food. For many families, it means dreading Christmas.

And what about those of us who can afford to pay, just about? Facing a monthly fee that’s tantamount to a second mortgage, we will have to cut down on all non-essentials. Sure, that might just mean less eating out, or fewer frivolous purchases. But it might also mean delaying higher education and training. It could mean putting off getting married and buying a home. Or even no longer being able to afford childcare and therefore having to give up our careers to become full-time parents. And, in some cases, it means losing the ability to leave unsafe situations, like households with domestic violence.

Our government claims to champion business. Over 50 per cent of businesses in the UK are single-person operations. I am one such business owner. How long will my business survive in this economic climate? Independent shops and restaurants will close left and right. How can we claim to be a country that fosters innovation when aspiring entrepreneurs won’t be able to take any risk on a new idea?

We’ve been told that wholesale prices mean energy providers and the government are powerless in this crisis. But if that’s the case, why have countries like Spain and France been able to take steps to protect their citizens? Don’t Pay UK is asking the government to set a reasonable price cap on energy bills to stop the entire economy from going off a cliff.

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We’re told that debt is shameful. We’re taught that struggling to pay our bills means we haven’t worked hard enough. But that’s nonsense. Those of us who can’t pay our bills have done nothing wrong. We need to stop feeling isolated and ashamed. We need to recognise that together, we can do something about this.

We’re facing a stark choice. Would we rather stop paying all at once on 1 October, or some time in January 2023, all alone? It’s not the choice that any of us wants to have to make, but for me and many others, the decision is clear.

The system is fundamentally broken. But on 1 October, we have the chance to change it.

Ellie (not her real name) is a local organiser for Don’t Pay from Sheffield

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