An anonymous campaign urging people not to pay mounting energy bills is gathering pace, according to organisers who have been dubbed “highly irresponsible” by the government.
The group, which calls itself Don’t Pay, said 70,000 people had so far added their names to a pledge to cancel their direct debits for gas and electricity from 1 October in protest at soaring costs they could not afford.
It threatened to impose its own, significantly lower, energy price cap unless a highly improved cost of living compensation settlement was forthcoming from the Treasury.
Saturday 1 October is when the next official energy price cap adjustment is due to kick in.
The cap, which is controlled by energy regulator Ofgem, currently leaves the average household paying £1,971 on an annual basis – a record sum which largely reflects the high demand for oil and gas as economies restarted after COVID restrictions.
However, the latest predictions for October, released earlier this week by energy consultancy Cornwall Insight, saw the cap rising to £3,359 per year and continuing to rise until peaking at £3,729 from April 2023.
The bulk of those forecast increases are linked to wholesale prices for natural gas, which have gone through the roof again in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Moscow has responded to Western sanctions by severely reducing exports to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, exacerbating the price spiral and scramble for supplies heading into the winter months of high demand.
Ofgem, which is expected to reveal October’s cap level later this month, is facing criticism for its recommendation that the cap is revised every three months in the current climate instead of twice a year.
Don’t Pay, which was started by a group of people concerned by rising bills and the mounting threat of fuel poverty for millions more families, said numbers agreeing to its pledge not to pay bills were doubling every week.
It claimed that 15,000 people “from all walks of life” were “organising” in their local communities, adding that demands for flyers containing more information had hit 1.6 million.
The threat of households refusing to pay their rocketing energy bills presents a challenge to whoever succeeds Boris Johnson as PM and may place additional strain on household energy suppliers as they grapple record wholesale costs.
The campaign also chimes with multiple union battles for wage increases in line with the rate of inflation – currently at a 40-year high of 9.4% – that have mainly led to disruptive strikes by rail and other transport workers to date.
The government said in response to Don’t Pay’s campaign: “This is highly irresponsible messaging, which ultimately will only push up prices for everyone else and affect personal credit ratings.
“While no government can control global gas prices, we are providing £37bn of help for households including the £400 discount on energy bills, and £1,200 of direct support for the most vulnerable households to help with the cost of living.”
Critics, including opposition parties and charities, say it won’t be enough to stop millions slipping into poverty as bills rise across the board.
A spokesperson for Don’t Pay said: “Our politicians and the oil and gas corporations have designed an energy system that only channels money and profits upwards, no matter the human cost.
“Many of us are already struggling to pay our bills while we see energy companies recording record profits. That can’t be right, and we won’t accept it.
“If the government and energy companies refuse to act then ordinary working people will. Together we will collectively enforce a fair price and the government and oil and gas giants will have to sort it out amongst themselves.”