Don't Pay UK group gathers more support over energy crisis but charities and financial experts warn people not to default on direct debits
Charities and money experts are warning people of the problems they could create by not paying their energy bills as a campaign to stop making payments gathers pace.
The Don't Pay UK group, which is demanding that gas and electric costs are returned to an 'affordable level, is trying to get the support of one million people who will pledge to cancel their direct debit from October 1 when a rise in the energy price cap officially comes into force pushing bills to record levels.
More than 94,000 people have already signed the online pledge - thousands in the last few days alone - and with fresh forecasts this week that there will now be an 81% rise to the energy price cap in October followed by a further 19% leap in January taking annual bills past £4,000 - it is expected that the campaign will get further support.
Citizens Advice says it is seeing 'truly unprecedented' numbers of people who already can't afford to top up their prepayment energy metres, while the value of energy debt is now estimated to be almost twice was it was in 2019.
However advisors say those who don't pay their bills do risk disconnection or being moved onto a pre-payment meter where they will be required to cover the cost of their energy up front and a method which comes with distinctly higher tariffs.
The organisation cautions against households skipping payments and says that anyone who simply cannot afford the escalating prices speaks to their provider instead as soon as possible so that payment plans can be agreed or further help explored.
Don't Pay UK says its ideas are not new and it has been inspired by the revolt of millions of people in the late 80s and 90s who refused to pay the Poll Tax.
But money saving expert Martin Lewis says, as the talk of potential gas and electric bills becomes more grave, he is seeing this type of civil unrest spoken about more and more but insists mass non-payment would would cause 'exponential problems' for both consumers and the government.
In a recent interview with ITV presenter Robert Peston, he added: "The big movement I am seeing is an increasing growth of people calling for a non payment of energy bills process - effectively a consumer strike."
Gas and electricity bills are known as priority bills meaning that there can be more costly consequences for missed or late payments.
In a warning on its own website, debt charity Stepchange cautions against people being tempted to join campaigns threatening non-payment which would lead them to fall into arrears.
The message reads: "You may be worried that as prices rise you can’t afford to pay your energy bills. Or you may have seen social media campaigns encouraging people to cancel their gas and electricity bills in protest at the high prices.
"While you might be tempted to cancel your Direct Debit or refuse to pay, your gas and electric bills are priority bills. There are severe consequences to missing or being late on a payment. Instead, if you can’t afford to pay, contact your energy company and ask them if you can pay at a rate you can afford."
Personal finance expert and co-founder of energy comparison site, Choose Wisely Tara Flynn said there can be long term consequences for those who don't pay their bills which will affect their future finances.
She explained: "I empathise with the campaign encouraging people to cancel their direct debits for their energy bills. I understand that for change to happen, sometimes you have to get radical, and I applaud the sentiment behind it when it feels like so little is being done to help. However, I'm gravely concerned about the long-term consequences of not paying energy bills for individuals.
"If you don't pay your bills for months on end and ignore all requests from your energy provider for payment, your provider could issue you with a CCJ (County Court Judgment), which will be kept on record and appear on your credit report. Unless you pay what you owe within 30 days of receiving a CCJ, it will stay on your credit report for six years, meaning it will be challenging to apply for credit during that time, making it much harder to get a mortgage, loan, credit card or even a mobile phone contract.
"For many, borrowing might be the only way to stay afloat during a potential recession, meaning The Don't Pay UK campaign could make things even harder for the very people it's trying to help."