‘Show solidarity with those who can’t pay’ - energy bill campaign Don’t Pay emerges in Bristol

Don’t Pay is demanding action on energy bills and the wider cost of living crisis

The Bristol branch of a national group calling for fair energy prices for everyone will be hosting a special drop-in event in the city next week. Bristol Don’t Pay is part of a grassroots movement holding a day of action across the UK on October 1.

With record-high energy bills becoming unaffordable for millions of people and the average annual bill rising to £2,500, Don’t Pay is demanding action on energy bills and the wider cost of living crisis.

The national Don’t Pay campaign is aiming to get a million pledges before it calls for a strike that sees people collectively refusing to pay their energy bills and cancel their direct debits.

So far, just under 191,000 people have pledged but Foca Mam of Bristol Don’t Pay says support in the city is growing. She says Bristol Don’t Pay has eight local groups across the city, with volunteers leafleting supermarkets and knocking on doors.

The October 1 event at Bristol Central Quaker Meeting House has been organised by representatives from each local group.

Bristol Don’t Pay is demanding action to help those impacted by a rise in energy prices

Foca says the drop-in will give people the opportunity to ask questions and there will be refreshments available and a children’s area.

Although October 1 was originally planned to be the day when Don’t Pay held a national strike, it will now be a day of action.

She says: “October 1 is a big national day of action and people will be able to pick up posters and leaflets, and we’ll also be showing a video.

“The message has changed now. The original message said we’ll only strike if we have a million people signed up because we need to cause enough disruption to the energy companies. It’s to create a critical mass of disruption.

Prime Minister Liz Truss, expected to reveal details of the support package this week, speaks in the House of Commons alongside Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng

“The government’s energy bill announcement saw the biggest increase in pledges [for a national Don’t Pay campaign] - around 50,000 in a week - so at that stage we thought we’d be hitting the million but whether it was the death of the Queen or other issues, the pledges have slowed down in the past week.

On September 8, the Government announced a two-year energy guarantee, which ministers say will limit the price suppliers can charge for units of gas from October 1 and save the typical household £1,000 a year in bills.

But Foca said: “The government announcement is basically a scam because essentially we’ll be paying 97% more than last year so it’s not going to make a difference.

“We know there are seven million people already in debt with energy bills. There are a lot of people on pre-payment meters who can’t pay because it’s a higher standing charge and higher price per unit.

“A lot of people have already cancelled their direct debits. They are still paying but not on a direct debit basis so they are saying to the energy companies they are just paying for what they are using.”

But will encouraging people not to pay, or to cancel direct debits, have a negative affect and result in more trouble for individuals when energy companies charge late payment fees or take more serious action?

Foca says: “We’re advising people to keep money aside if they can but the reality is that most people can’t choose and the majority can’t pay.

“A lot of people can’t pay their other bills like rents and risk homelessness. The only thing we can do is stick together and those who can afford to pay should be in solidarity with those who can’t.

“We’re organising community aid so once there’s a strike and it takes a few months before the result we want, we know people will be supported if they get debt collectors turning up at their doors.

“A lot of people are in debt with their energy bills since the pandemic because they lost their jobs or are disabled and can’t pay the price.

“Energy companies have a duty to offer them pre-payment plans and can’t disconnect people who are vulnerable, have children under five or are pensioners, but what they do is put them on a pre-payment meter which is more expensive.

“One of our key demands is the end to enforced pre-payment meters. It should be an option if people want to use them to budget better but it shouldn’t be enforced on people who can’t afford to pay as they are more expensive.”

The Bristol Don’t Pay drop-in takes place at Bristol Central Quaker Meeting House, Champion Square, BS2 9DB, from 11am-1.30pm on October 1.