More than 193,000 people have pledged to “strike” from paying their energy bills if a million Britons commit to not paying.
Originally, the Don’t Pay campaign had pledged not to pay from 1 October, the date regulator Ofgem’s price cap was due to rise, if a million people had signed up. The scale would “give safety in numbers” from repercussions, the anonymous organisers argued.
The cap had been due to increase by 80% to £3,549 from Saturday, and then hit £5,400 in January. Instead, under Liz Truss’s energy price guarantee an average annual bill will be capped at £2,500 for two years.
The group’s million-people target has remained. It has now demanded “a reduction in energy bills to an affordable level” and pledged to “withhold payment together if we are ignored”.
The movement was started by a group of friends, who have remained anonymous for fear of consequences, in June. There is no central funding for the campaign. Media coverage and grassroots flyer-posting and events have helped boost its profile.
Asked whether the prime minister’s announcement had taken the wind out of their sails, a spokesperson for the movement said: “The threat of all of us saying we won’t pay left the government with no other option.
“Together we forced the government to step in and reduce the catastrophic 80% energy price rise we faced. But we should be clear: this crisis is far from over.”
People involved in the campaign appear to fit into two groups: those who cannot pay their bills this winter and those ideologically opposed to the large profits made in sections of the energy industry who want to send a message to large businesses by not paying.
“We’ll keep building the strike until the one million threshold – but local groups have also been building the structures we need in our local communities to protect ourselves and each other from the cold this winter,” the spokesperson said.
One issue with the campaign is its conflation of two parts of the energy industry. It argues that energy producers, such as BP and Shell, are expected to make billions in excess profits over the next two years.
However, not paying energy bills would initially only affect retail suppliers, who have experienced a squeeze over the past year caused by the increase in wholesale gas prices and the cap on what they can charge consumers. This led to more than 30 companies going out of business.
The campaign’s big precedent, the poll tax riots of 1990, took four million people refusing to pay – some of whom faced liability orders forcing them to pay – to get the Thatcher government to scrap the levy.
Whether this movement can reach that scale remains to be seen, but perhaps a freezing winter, blackouts and the prospect of civil unrest could trigger further action from Truss’s administration.