What should you do when there is a power cut?

Last updated: 11 November 2020

In this guide, you’ll find answers to the following questions:

  • How do I check for an electricity power cut?

  • When – and how - should I report a power cut?

  • What to do in a power cut: do you have a checklist I can follow?

  • Is there a register for vulnerable people to receive additional support during a power cut?

  • Can I claim compensation after a power cut?

How do I check for an electricity power cut?

If you suddenly find there’s no electricity in your home, it could be down to any number of reasons. You might ask yourself, ‘Is there a power cut in my area?’ but there may be other causes for electricity failure, some of which are closer to home. Your first task, therefore, is to try and confirm if there’s been a power outage. Some easy ways to do this include: 

  • Check your streetlights

If it’s dark outside and your streetlights are also off, then – assuming your local council hasn’t set them to switch off after a certain point each night (typically midnight) – there’s a good chance your local area is suffering from an electricity power cut. 

  • Is your entire house affected?

If you live in a house and find that your electricity still works downstairs, or that the lights work but the power sockets don’t, then the issue is likely with your home’s trip switches. Check your fuse box.

  • Are your neighbours affected?

If you live in a flat, check to see if your neighbours are also experiencing a blackout.

  • Are you up to date with your bills?

If you’re on a prepayment meter, make sure your credit is in balance and you haven’t simply run out.

Common causes for problems within your own home can be down to faults in your wiring or a blown fuse, or simply that a trip switch has been triggered by a malfunctioning device in your home. Check your fuse box – in many cases, this simply requires resetting the trip switch. If your home has multiple trip switches for different parts of the system – say lighting, electrical circuits, and garage – flick all these switches to off if the main trip switch refuses to stay on, then flick each individual trip switch to on. If you’re lucky, this will clear the problem; if not, you should be able to isolate the circuit causing you problems and investigate further: check each plug and switch off any potentially problematic devices like kettles or irons before attempting the trip switch again.

If you’re not confident doing any of this yourself, then a qualified electrician will be able to confirm if there is something wrong with your wiring and reset your electricity if needed. 

If you’re still not sure whether the problem is a power cut, avoid calling your energy supplier. They’re unable to assist if you’re experiencing localised power cuts; instead, you can check the status of power cuts in your area by calling 105 – it’s a freephone number. Note, you’ll need to do this from a mobile phone or traditional corded phone; cordless landline phones don’t work if their base station loses power. 

When – and how – do I report a power cut?

Power cuts can be reported using the 105 freephone number, or you can visit the UK Power Networks website to discover who your local network distributor is. You can also get this information from your energy supplier but remember they can’t help to restore power to your home or area.

Once you know who your distributor is, visit its website to see if it offers a tracking and reporting tool – for example, London, the South East, and East Anglia supplier UK Power Networks provides a dedicated web page for you to enter your postcode to search for, track, and – crucially – report power cuts. You can also track power cuts on a map.

While you can call your distributor to report the issue and ask for updates, it’s unlikely that this will expedite the process. UK power cut issues, fortunately, don’t tend to last that long and you can be assured that your distributor is working to restore power once you’ve confirmed the power cut affects your local area and not just you.

What to do in a power cut: do you have a checklist I can follow?

In the event of a blackout, the following things will help ensure your home runs smoothly again once power is restored.

  • Unplug appliances: If you can safely unplug or switch off appliances – such as TVs, computers, and washing machines – you can help protect them when power is restored. Often, the return of power causes a surge which can potentially damage any appliances that are still connected to the mains.

  • Keep a light on: Keep at least one light in the “on” position so you’ll know when power has been restored.

  • Keep food sanitary: If your power cut is looking to extend beyond a couple of hours, you should start thinking about your frozen and chilled food. Any meat that reaches temperatures above four degrees Celsius and remains unrefrigerated for more than an hour should be disposed of. Similarly, if you have meat that is likely to thaw, place it on a plate so the juices don’t contaminate the rest of your freezer’s contents. 

  • Stay well-lit: It may not occur to you to keep alternative lighting options to hand, but torches or candles (although this is not advised if you have children or pets) will be necessary, especially if the power cut takes place during winter. 

  • Have back-up power: Power banks will be useful for keeping your phone charged so you can stay up to date with the status of your power cut. Most phones also have a power saving mode you can use. You should also have emergency power in place if you have vital medical equipment in your home.

  • Have ice handy: You may have a bag of ice in your freezer anyway, but there’s no harm in picking one up to guard against power cuts. They’re not expensive, and in the event of the power going out, they can help keep your fridge temperature down.

  • Stock up on camping supplies: While this may seem over-zealous, things like camp stoves (only to be used outside and never in enclosed spaces), a few blankets and easy-to-prepare, shelf-stable food can help get you through a long-lasting power cut, after all, if your power is out, your central heating is too. You’ll be grateful you prepared for the worst if a power cut strikes in the evening, into dinner time and throughout the night. 

  • Know the manual way of doing things: If you rely on things working automatically, like your garage door, then make sure you know how to manually work them too, or you may find a power cut stops you getting to work.

Once power is restored to your home you should also do the following:

  • Check clocks: Digital appliances with clocks will likely reset themselves after being turned off.

  • Reset your thermostat: The same may be true of your thermostat timer, so reset it to the correct time.

Is there a register for vulnerable people to receive additional support during a power cut? 

If you or someone you know is likely to be left in a vulnerable position in the event of a power outage, you can have their details added to the Priority Services Register (PSR). 

This is a service provided by both network distributors and your energy supplier to prioritise certain customers in the event of a blackout or other issue, and ensures special assistance is provided to keep them safe and informed. In the case of a power cut, those on the PSR may be provided with alternative means of heating and cooking and given priority support until power is restored. 

There are many other benefits to being on the PSR that make managing power much easier during daily life, including:

  • Advance notice of power cuts.

  • A safe identification scheme so vulnerable people will always be able to double-check that callers to their house such as meter readers or engineers are genuine. This may be done through a password scheme, where the user sets a password which will then always be used by the supplier or network to confirm their authenticity. 

  • Nominated bill schemes that allow someone else to handle your bills and other communication on your behalf.

Simply call your supplier or network distributor and request to be added to the PSR if you think these services would be of use to you. However, be aware that you must be one of the below:

  • You receive a pension

  • You are disabled or living with long-term illness

  • You are chronically sick

  • You have a sight or hearing impairment

  • You have additional communication needs

  • You are in a vulnerable situation

  • You live with a child under five

Can I claim compensation after a power cut?

Once your power is running again, you may find you are eligible for power cut compensation. Most power cuts in the UK don’t last longer than an hour, but if they last longer, you could be owed compensation. 

You can only receive recompense if the power outage was the fault of your network distributor or energy supplier, if it was caused by a fault in your home such as poor wiring, you cannot claim compensation.

You may be owed money in the following circumstances:

CircumstancesClaim amount
An electricity power cut was planned, but your distributor did not provide two days’ notice£30 if claimed within 30 days of the incident
The power cut lasts more than 12 hours, and affects fewer than 5,000 homes£75, plus £35 for each subsequent 12-hour period without electricity
The power cut lasts more than 12 hours, and affects more than 5,000 homesSame as above, but capped to a maximum claim of £300
Incident due to bad weather such as storms or flooding£70 for the first 24 hours, plus £70 for each subsequent 12-hour period without electricity. Maximum cap: £700

Compensation can be claimed by contacting your network distributor and should be paid within 10 days. Power cuts caused by poor weather may take longer to be compensated. If you are having issues receiving your compensation in a timely manner you can also go to the Energy Ombudsman to resolve it.

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Published on Wed 13 Nov 2019 11.48 GMT