Who started Don't Pay?

Don't Pay was started by a group of us who are friends because we saw the danger that rising energy bills are having on us, our families and our wider communities. We started to talk to more friends in our circle and set about planning what we thought was an effective idea to tackle this head on.

We were all very aware of what would be facing us if the hikes in prices continued and the catastrophe of this winter if no one did anything. Using our skills we built a website, designed and printed 20,000 leaflets and handed them out at the “We Demand Better” Trade Union demo in Central London on 18th June. The response was amazing. When we got back to our homes we saw it had taken off on social media and people started signing up and ordering leaflets.

Who runs Don't Pay?

Everyone involved in Don't Pay volunteers whatever skills and resources they can. From a small group of us chatting to hundreds of people getting involved in helping the tens of thousands who’ve signed up to form local groups shows just how many people are determined to fight this crisis.

We know, if this is going to work, it can't be organised top down or by a few people - we all have jobs and to be honest, that was never sustainable. Our main aim was to put this idea out with enough direction that it could take off and become everyone's movement for those who, like us, don’t want to just sit there and take it but do something about it.

There are of course many roles that people are taking on in terms of social media and strategy but anyone can get involved in organising a local group in their area and get on with it.

How is Don't Pay funded?

There's no funding, no one gets paid and we are proud that we got this far off our own backs and from our own pockets whilst holding down regular jobs. Everything was done with us donating our time and skills and for it to be sustainable and scalable. The original layout for 20,000 leaflets was the only cost apart from the web domain, and the tech and design skills we already had.

From what we know, it takes a lot of money to run a campaign if you're actually paying people and need to pay for everything you do. But when you see genuine grassroots movements that take off like Don't Pay, you understand that the amount of people who want to do stuff for free and offer their skills just grows exponentially. That is what we are reliant on.

We're now sending out hundreds of thousands of stickers and leaflets every week at cost price so they're as cheap as possible for everyone who wants some. And the money for things like web hosting, printing and postage are covered by hundreds of ordinary people who've donated.

Why do we need to get organised?

We are facing an absolutely huge social crisis that will affect millions of us if we don’t act now. 7 million households face fuel poverty this winter while energy companies make billions in profits. We cannot afford to let that happen. That is why we need to build a strong and powerful movement that would be able to challenge the Government and the energy industry.

To do that we think getting organised locally, with the people you know, in your area is the best way to make sure this movement takes off and is prepared to act.

What is a non-payment campaign?

A non-payment campaign is when people collectively commit to not paying a bill or charge. One example would be the resistance to the Poll Tax: more than 17 million people refused to pay and it became impossible for the government to force people to pay. Even then many people were scared to act and not pay the tax. But as confidence grew and local Poll Tax Groups were formed to support each other, it became socially acceptable to not pay. Tens of thousands of liability orders were issued forcing people to pay - but people refused and eventually the Poll Tax was scrapped.

A more recent example was the non-payment campaign against Southern Water in Kent in 2020 after they were fined £90 million for dumping raw sewage into the sea. Outraged by those costs being passed onto consumers, a non-payment campaign took off and eventually residents won by getting 50% taken off their bills.

Should I stop paying right now?

It's up to you to decide what's best for you and your household - but we won't call the strike until we have 1 millino pledges and safety in numbers. If we all get this right and act together then the impact would be felt massively. Of course many people are already unable to pay - which is why it’s necessary to take action and fight back together. What we are saying is let's face this all together and let's be prepared to do the same thing at the same time rather than be picked off and face this alone.

What will happen if we don't do this?

We know the Government won't step in and give people the support they need unless they are forced to. The Government's original response was a £200 'gift' that we had to pay back next year. They were forced to back down and announced £37 billion in packages. This was pretty much a subsidy to the big oil and gas energy generators and was heavily criticised. Energy companies aren't going to reduce prices out of the kindness of their hearts. We can't expect anyone apart from ourselves to do what's needed to force action on the cost of living.

National Energy Action (NEA) estimates 11,400 winter deaths are already caused by cold every year. By this winter, 7 million households won't be able to afford their energy bills. Citizens Advice says that self-disconnections are up eight-fold, with at least 3,600 self-disconnections between January and May this year already - meaning thousands of people simply don't have access to gas and electricity because it's too expensive.

The stakes couldn't be any higher. If we do nothing, the risks to us are huge. Doing nothing becomes riskier than doing something - and that something is a powerful strategy to resist what we are facing.

How do I participate if I’m on a pre-payment meter?

There are many different ways to support the strike if you're on a pre-payment meter, but you won't be able to join the non-payment strike itself. If you don't pay while on a pre-payment meter, you'll be disconnected once your credit runs out - so we won't be asking people on a pre-payment meter to withhold payment.

We still need people on pre-payment meters to get involved however and we do not want a divided movement where people do not see themselves involved - everyone needs to be involved. This could mean distributing leaflets, setting up local groups, posting on social media and convincing others to get involved.

Won't they just cut off my gas and electricity?

It'll be extremely difficult for energy suppliers to do so on a mass scale - but it is possible and you should know how the energy companies may respond if millions of us withhold payment.

Energy supply disconnections for non-payment are already extremely rare - as few as 8 in 2018 were reported. This is because certain rules govern energy suppliers' behaviour in non-payment cases:

  • If you haven't paid your bill after 28 days, your supplier may contact you about the possibility of disconnecting your gas or electricity supply. Their first port of call will be to try to install a prepayment meter.
  • Before any further action can be taken, though, they must give you a chance to pay your debt through a payment plan.
  • The guidance says that, if you can’t reach an agreement with your supplier on clearing your debt, they can apply to a court for a warrant to enter your home to disconnect you. If you have a smart energy meter then your supplier could be able to disconnect the supply remotely without needing to access it, but they'll first need to have visited your home to do an assessment of your personal situation and the potential impact of disconnection.

We'll only go ahead with the non-payment strike if we have power in numbers. So, if energy suppliers decide to try to disconnect people, they'll be forced to first contact thousands, tens of thousands or even more customers about the possibility of disconnecting supply - but only after 28 days have passed. Then they'll have to give a chance to set up a payment plan before, in most cases, applying to a court for a warrant. It'll cause paralysis and create a months-long backlog.

We are very clear in that everyone that pledges to strike also pledges to defend the strike and that means protecting and supporting each other that are threatened by debt collectors. We will look after each other in this movement and build the solidarity to do that.

Can my landlord evict me if I don’t pay my energy bills?

Unless your energy bills are included in your rent, your landlord should have nothing to do with your energy bills. It's an agreement between you and your energy supplier, so your landlord will only know if you haven't paid if you tell them. If your energy bills are included in your rent, you won't have a choice about paying your bills unless you don't pay your rent, in which case your landlord could decide to evict you for being in rent arrears.

Will striking affect my credit score?

Your energy bills aren't a loan, so missing payments aren't certain to affect your credit score in the same way. But some suppliers do report missed payments to credit agencies, so in those cases it's possible that there will be consequences to your credit score.

If you are worried about your credit score, remember that energy suppliers can't take any action if you make a payment within 28 days. It would still devastate a company's cashflow if thousands of people cancelled their direct debits and paid a few weeks later, with no consequences to the strikers.

When prices go up and our energy usage increases over winter, millions of us will miss payments whether it affects our credit score or not. It's important we take action together to stop it getting to that stage.

Does it matter if my credit report is affected?

A credit report is a bit like an employer or landlord reference: it can have a big effect on your life, but it’s also a way for companies to have power over you to stop you doing anything that might be against their interests. That doesn’t mean it should stop you from complaining when something is wrong, or from withholding payment sometimes if you need to.

Credit scores affect your ability to take out credit (e.g. loans, mortgages and credit cards) and they can also be used by private landlords to work out whether they want to rent to you. They may also be used to see whether suppliers wish to offer you, for example, a contract for a mobile phone. As a general rule, potential money lenders must check your credit file before lending to you, whereas landlords may choose not to use a credit check at all. Late payments, defaults and CCJs will remain on your credit file for 6 years, after which they disappear.

You can check your credit file at Clear Score, Check My File and several other apps and websites. Some people have a credit score that is already very low due to previous or existing unpaid debts or insolvency. Other people may have no intention of borrowing significant further credit in the next 6 years. If you have a choice in your household, you may want to ask to pass the account to someone who is not as concerned by a risk to their credit score because of these factors, though it should always be their choice.

Not all lenders will mind if you have a late payment or default registered on your credit file but, as a general rule, the worse your credit is, the fewer lenders (such as banks) will lend to you. Nevertheless, it is often still possible to get credit if needed. If you do have trouble obtaining credit when you really need it, you may want to look at a better option, such as a credit union. Credit unions can offer low interest rate loans to help people get out of debt, rather than lenders’ usual habit of giving predatory loans to people with poor credit scores. Credit unions are still lenders, though, so proceed with caution, as all debt is debt!

Will striking affect my mortgage repayments?

Your mortgage amount, interest rate, and monthly repayments are contractually agreed with your bank or building society. If you stop paying your energy bills, that won't have any effect on your mortgage.

Credit score is taken into account when applying for a new mortgage, or remortgaging. It's important that everyone understands what the risks are. However, we're already in a situation in which people are having to miss bills so they can pay their rent or mortgages. And with interest rates rising to 1.75% those on variable mortgages will also be feeling another rise in outgoings.

How do I get more involved?

Sign up on the website as an organiser and we will put you in contact with a group in your postcode area. If there are no groups in your area yet, you will be soon able to create your own group to get others to join it. Everyone can order or print leaflets from the website and start getting the message out, don't wait on us - just go ahead and get active.

Sign up here.