We know millions simply won't be able to pay or are already planning to stop paying to protest the extortionate energy prices hikes. If you pledge to strike, you're not pledging to strike on your own or no matter what. You're pledging to join a mass of others so we can turn our weakness as individuals into collective power - the power we need to protect each other, our communities and force the government to act.
It's not about never paying, it's about leverage. When we strike, huge numbers of us will withhold payment until the government and energy companies reverse the energy price hikes, end all enforcement of pre-payment meters and make sure no one goes cold this winter.
When you pledge, you're signing up to withhold payment to your energy supplier - with a mass of other people.
There are no precedents for coordinated, mass non-payment to energy companies
On this page we've collated what you need to know about non-payment if you were to stop paying today. We can't know how likely and how long these processes if a critical mass of us all stop paying at the same time together - but that doesn't mean there aren't any risks involved and it's important we all understand what the potential risks of non-payment could be.
By pledging to strike, we all agree to take on some risk – because we know the risk of us not taking action is far greater. Thousands will freeze in their homes because they can't afford to put the heating on. Millions of us are set to be pushed into arrears with our energy suppliers - who'll then pursue everyone individually for their debts.
But, when we strike, not only will we build our leverage - we're coming together to protect those who can't pay and to defend our communities with mutual aid and advice.
What you need to know to understand the potential risks of non-payment
You can't withhold payment if you're 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.
Pre-payment meters mean the poorest in society pay the most for their energy and are automatically cut off if they cannot afford it. This simply cannot continue and these devices and the higher tariff paid by the poorest must be abolished. For those who want to keep pre-payment meters for budgeting reasons, these remaining meters should be on the cheapest not the most expensive tariff.
It's extremely unlikely you'll get your supply disconnected
Total disconnections of power supply are extremely rare. If you aren't paying your energy bill, it's more common that your energy supplier will threaten to put you on a prepayment meter. For those on prepayment meters, it means that, if your credit runs out, the power in your home goes off and you have to make a payment to get it back on.
Your personal risk of being pushed onto prepayment is different depending on whether your home has a smart meter or not.
If you do not have a smart meter, the energy supplier would have to physically install a prepayment meter in your house. This is already a lengthy process that takes months. Your supplier cannot enter into your home to install a prepayment meter without a warrant, which has to go through a Magistrates’ court. Non-payment of energy bills is not a criminal offence so, even if they do eventually apply for a warrant to install a prepayment meter, this won't lead to you getting a criminal record and will not show up on a DBS check.
You can defend a claim for a warrant at a Magistrates’ court. You should speak to a debt advisor if it gets to this stage, as they should be able to provide help. You should also speak to a debt advisor if they are trying to take you to court for a County Court Judgement (CCJ) - though it's worth remembering your supplier may threaten both of these things many months before they begin the process.
Ofgem rules are clear that companies should only apply for a court warrant to reclaim debt as a ‘last resort’ after offering an affordable repayment plan and taking into account any vulnerability among people in your household that means it would be detrimental to your health and safety. If any company tries to push you onto a prepayment meter without following due process, you should complain to the Energy Ombudsman.
If you have a smart meter, you may be at a higher risk of being moved to pre-payment without your permission. Your energy supplier might be able to do this remotely without needing to gain a warrant to enter your home - but before they do this they must have:
- contacted you to discuss options for repaying your debt and
- visited your home to assess your personal situation and whether this would affect you being disconnected - for example, if you're disabled or elderly
Millions of people have been persuaded to get smart meters without ever being informed properly that it exposed them to this risk. For more information on how you can try to stop your energy supplier moving you to prepayment, read this page on the Citizens Advice website.
If your energy supplier wants to move you to pre-payment, you may be able to refuse
For many of us, pushing back against pressure to accept a prepayment meter will involve telling the energy company that someone in our household is vulnerable. If someone in your household is vulnerable, the energy company should pause the forced prepayment. They may agree not to put you into a pre-payment meter after you contact them and state that someone in your household is vulnerable, firmly insisting that they would be breaking Ofgem rules if they force you onto prepayment. They may ask for evidence and unfortunately there are no clear guidelines on what evidence will be accepted, though medical evidence direct from a GP should suffice. If the energy company refuses to take into account that you are vulnerable, you should raise a complaint. If the complaint is not resolved within 8 weeks, you can escalate it to the Energy Ombudsman.
Details of what vulnerabilities are accepted as such by energy companies can be found in the Fuel Rights Handbook, a chapter of which is available here on how to avoid disconnection for arrears.
Your credit score may be affected
Energy firms report to the Credit Reference Agencies such as Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
This means that energy debt can affect your credit score, and the reality is that unless we stop the coming hike, millions of people will be pushed into energy debt, which will affect their credit score.
However, there is an important difference to be aware of between a late payment and a default. If you are late paying your bill, that could be recorded on your credit score as a late payment. Realistically, millions of people are going to have late payments of energy bills this autumn because we simply cannot pay. If everything else on your credit score is favorable, some late payments for energy bills in autumn 2022 - in a context where millions of people are paying late due to the energy crisis - seems unlikely to have a major effect on your future borrowing ability, depending what type of credit you are looking for.
A 'default' on energy debts is different - this has more serious implications for your credit score. A default should not be recorded before you have missed payments for 3 to 6 months.
An energy supplier should not report information which harms your credit score to credit ratings agencies if there is a valid dispute about your bill lodged with the Energy Ombudsman.
Your bills may increase if you don’t pay by direct debit
You may be charged a fee if you fail to make a payment and this information should be set out on your supplier's website.
Direct debit is also the cheapest way to pay for electricity and gas. Your supplier may start sending you bills at a higher rate if you cancel it. However, the strike is not about never paying - it's about withholding payment temporarily to force the government to step in to permanently reverse the huge price hikes.
It's likely the Energy Ombudsman will reject any complaints about price increases
If you decide to raise a complaint with the Energy Ombudsman, it's highly likely it will reject any complaints about price increases as invalid unless there is another basis for the dispute, such as an incorrect bill, poor customer service or not taking into account your vulnerability due to mental or physical health problems or financial precarity. If you want to complain to the Ombudsman, you need to complain to the energy provider first and allow them 8 weeks to resolve it before you can escalate it to the Ombudsman.
We'll continue developing resources with debt and legal experts to help you and local Don’t Pay organisers understand and challenge these processes. However, we'd encourage you to look into these processes yourself before making a decision to pledge to strike. To get you started, you can find more information on the Citizens Advice, Ofgem website and in this blog by Debt Camel.