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A common trope among self styled sovereign citizens is that there's effectively no real need to pay for utilities. Because they "can't" shut them off.

I can easily imagine some human rights type legislation that states that it's illegal to discontinue one's electricity water and heating due to failure to pay or destitution.

But I also can easily imagine that the cost would become a civil debt that may be pursued like others, through the county court and ultimately through bailiffs' visits.

Unless, still completely speculating in the spirit of providing inspiration for prospective answers, when various utility service providers when privatised through deregulation and outsourcing and pawning off the functions of the government under Thatcher there were provisions to placate anti austerity forces by ensuring that the new privatised/outsourced entities were heavily regulated and didn't operate "too" much like a for profit business.

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The household that doesn't pay its water bill cannot by law be cut off or restricted from the water supply. However, there have been reports that some companies have disconnected households anyway, claiming the premises were not occupied.

In some circumstances the gas or electricity supplier may disconnect the domestic consumer that is not paying its bills. However, "Suppliers must take all reasonable steps to avoid disconnecting an energy supply for debt. It should always be a last resort and avoided wherever possible" (Ofgem, the regulator).

The question asks for "possible" repercussions, not probable or usual.

So here are some "possible" repercussions.

The utility company may pursue the debt; first by mail, then via a debt collection agency and may ultimately seek court orders to resolve the matter one way or another.

Generally, utility companies and the regulator Ofgem don't want things to get to court and will try to agree a repayment plan with the debtor and/or (in the case of electricity or gas) offer to install a prepayment meter. There are payment support options for households in financial difficulties but the question seems to be about outright refusals to pay.

All creditors pursuing a debt are expected to follow the Pre-Action Protocol for Debt Claims. This should be followed before a court order for a County Court Judgment for the debt can be made. Failure to follow the protocol does not invalidate the debt but can affect the court's decision.

If the creditor wins a county court judgment (CCJ) against the debtor, the debtor will be obliged to pay the debt at a rate the court decides is appropriate.

A CCJ is recorded on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines. The Register is checked by companies to determine the credit-worthiness of applicants for credit cards, loans, mortgages, some bank accounts and rental agreements. If the debtor pays the full amount within one month of the CCJ, the record can be removed from the Register. If the debtor pays later, they can get the record marked as 'satisfied' - it will stay on the register for six years but searchers will see that the debtor paid the debt. If the debtor sticks to the payment plan the record can reflect this. Otherwise the record of the debt remains on the Register for six years.

If the debtor still refuses to pay, the debtor may expect visits from bailiffs who will ask for payment and, failing that, the bailiffs might try to remove property to sell at auction to raise money to cover the debt and the bailiffs' costs.

The creditor may seek an order for an attachment of earnings or an attachment of benefits / benefit deductions. In this case, the employer or benefits agency is ordered to divert money from the wages or benefits to the court that made the order, and the court sends the money to the creditor - the debtor doesn't receive that money. (The benefits attachment is likely more appropriate for non-payment of council tax.)

The creditor may seek a third-party debt order, which orders the debtor's bank to freeze money in the debtor's account to the amount of the debt.

The creditor may seek a charging order, which secures the debt against the debtor's property (e.g. their home if they own it). This can be followed up with an order for sale, which obliges the debtor to sell that property and the debt will be paid from the proceeds.

The creditor could seek a court order that allows them to change the utility meter on the property to a prepayment meter. In this case the debtor has not been disconnected as such but they must pay (or get help to pay) in advance for their electricity or gas consumption.

As noted earlier, the last resort is disconnection of the gas or electricity supply.

In terms of criminal law, I don't know if any such debtors have been charged with illegal abstraction of electricity or gas but those seem like "possible" charges.

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  • Okay, then it seems in order to have a corollary answer to what are the usual and probable consequences... Aug 15, 2022 at 14:09
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    @JosephP. Please abstain from comments that disparage users, as such is violating stack policies and can constitute harrasment.
    – Trish
    Aug 15, 2022 at 20:19
  • Also, I saw a news article relatively recently talking about the utilities companies in the UK visiting houses to forcibly "upgrade" their utilities boxes to prepaid boxes that will automatically cut off your power when you use up the allotment you prepaid for.
    – nick012000
    Jan 27, 2023 at 2:55
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There's no human right to utilities

The usage of the utilities is rather simple in how it is regulated: A household needs a contract with the service provider to even get them. There are rights written into the laws, but that doesn't make them human rights - those are only defined in the human rights act, and don't include any utilities.

Power companies escalate up to cutoff

If you don't register with the service provider and sign a contract, you don't get utilities. Now, assume there is a contract, and they have turned you on, but now nobody pays the bills.

Now, eventually, the service provider can (and will) cut you off from the utilities. Or short: No payment? No Utilities. However, that's the ultimate step after they exhausted their other means. To that point, most service providers give you a very long arm, as cutting off takes time and labor that is expensive and does not recoup the bills yet.

There are some limits to when they can't cut you off at all, but generally, if you miss your very last payment deadline after all the other escalation steps have been taken, you might end up without service eventually.

Before that, the providers have to pursue the court to try and try to recoup the outstanding debt first and go through collections. But the user still accrues the debt with the service provider, and in collections, they can send in the bailiff to recover some of it, or directly cash in on your wages to some degree. The service provider will try to get you to pay on a payment plan even, usually even before they go into collections and court. There are even ways to get state assistance to satisfy some of the debt.

But in the end, if you are just too deep in the hole and never pay and there is nothing to get from collections and even the state assistance isn't available, there will be a point when they will cut you off, at least for a certain time, possibly even illegally, just to make you pay.

But I never contracted...

If you never properly registered in the first place, and you just hooked yourself up to the net or used wrong information, then you commit electricity theft - which can be handled a subtype of fraud and theft.

This is used for cases of bypassing the meters entirely or hooking your wall outlet to the neighbor's power meter or even opening your meter and modifying it so it runs slower. All these are types of fraud. It can end you in jail.

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