Taking stock

Don’t Pay launched back in June with a few flyers and some volunteers to hand them out at a trade union demonstration. Today, our network of regional coordinators from across the country are drawing up plans for the next stages of our campaign.

As we make plans moving forward, let’s take stock of where we’re at now and what we’ve achieved.

Sunday 19 February 2023

We think the way to build power is through grassroots organising. That means we don’t have any funders or vested interests to please – everyone involved is doing it off their own back – and it's not about social media reach or brand recognition.

As we take stock of where we are today, we're interested in one thing above all: have we won our demands?

In summary:

  1. Reverse the energy price cap to its pre-April 2021 level: energy prices are still extortionate and unaffordable for millions, but the picture would be worse still if we hadn't forced the government to intervene.
  2. End all enforcement of pre-payment meters: we helped raise the alarm on forced pre-payment transfer, with recent pressure and investigations forcing a temporary suspension.
  3. Introduce an energy social tariff: the government is actively discussing the idea of a social tariff while market regulator, Ofgem, has proposed the launch of one.

Let’s look at the detail.

Demand 1: reverse the energy price cap to its pre-April 2021 level

Our first demand is for the energy price cap to be reversed to an annual average of £1,042, the cap before the 1 April 2021 rise.

Since 1 January 2023, the Ofgem price cap has been set at an annual average of £4,279. Today, however, our energy bills are capped at £2,500 after the government introduced its Energy Price Guarantee. This is a significant concession, likely costing tens of billions, and there's clear evidence our mass non-payment campaign forced the government to act.

By early September, polls estimated more than 3 million people were planning to cancel direct debits in protest ahead of the 80% increase to the energy price cap – with more than half inspired by our campaign.

Mass non-payment was coming and a leaked presentation from the second largest energy supplier in the UK, E.ON, revealed that executives were terrified, calling our campaign an "existential" threat to the energy industry. They lobbied the government over the summer and demanded that soon-to-be Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng draw up plans in response.

And it came on only the second day of Liz Truss’ premiership: the Energy Price Guarantee. A commitment to limit the price rise, no matter the cost – with some estimates at the time putting it at a potential £150 billion over two years. They could not even start any other act of governance without dealing with the threat posed by our campaign.

Prices today remain extortionate and unaffordable. Right now, we know at least 3 million people are behind on their energy bills – that’s 3 million people who can’t pay. But the reality is: millions more households would be in fuel poverty if we hadn’t forced the Government to act.

As we look forward, the picture is changing again with prices set to fall from July.

While the government is planning to increase the Energy Price Guarantee to £3,000 from 1 April, current forecasts for wholesale prices predict a fall in the Ofgem energy price cap from £4,279 to £3,208 from 1 April and then to £2,200 from 1 July.

We may no longer be fighting a defensive battle against additional, huge price hikes but, even if average bills fall to £2,200, we're still paying more than twice what we were in 2021. And all while the fossil fuel giants continue to make record profits.

Demand 2: end all enforcement of pre-payment meters

Fuel poverty and disability-rights campaigners have long opposed the enforcement of pre-payment meters. With the launch of our campaign, we joined efforts to raise the alarm as energy suppliers doubled down on a mass transfer to pre-payment last year - we’ve held the demand for an end to all forced transfer to pre-payment from day one.

A wave of pressure has built in recent months. Campaigners and vital reporting in the i newspaper put this scandal on the front pages. Then, earlier this month, an undercover investigation by the Times, which exposed agents working for British Gas breaking into homes to force-fit pre-payment meters, finally forced energy suppliers to suspend the practice. Ofgem and the Government then followed with temporary bans. They had been warned about suppliers' plans to fit hundreds of thousands of meters months earlier, but acted only after public pressure had forced suppliers to suspend this practice.

It's a temporary respite, but the scourge of pre-payment is far from over. Millions are still stuck on these punitive devices, with research revealing that one person every 10 seconds was cut off from heating or electricity in 2022 after running out of credit. No one should be going without access to these essentials, so we need to keep fighting for an end to so-called "self-disconnection" and permanently end all enforcement of pre-payment meters.

Demand 3: introduce an energy social tariff

This demand is for more fundamental reform to the energy market. Currently, everyone pays the same per unit rate for their gas and electricity no matter what you’re using it for or what your circumstances are. The cost of heating your home is the same per unit of energy used as it is to heat a swimming pool, for example. Our demand for a social tariff tackles this inherent unfairness in the energy market. When people can’t afford to keep the heating on, their fridges cold and the lights on, they shouldn’t be paying the same rates as people heating large homes and swimming pools.

There are different forms a social tariff could take. We’ve recently teamed up with Fuel Poverty Action on warm-up actions who have a demand for Energy for All, for example, a free band of energy for every household to cover the essentials.

And there’s been movement on this demand since the launch of our campaign. Rishi Sunak confirmed the government is making plans to bring in a social tariff for energy, and the CEO of Ofgem also proposed the introduction of an energy social tariff. The devil will be in the detail as but it's still another shift that would've seemed an impossibility this time last year.

We've taken some steps forward. We've learnt many lessons. But, above all, we know we must keep fighting until we all have access to the energy we need to be comfortable in our homes.

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