What should I do when there is a power cut?

Checking for an electricity power cut

A power cut can be a huge inconvenience to homes and businesses alike, leaving you feeling helpless. Being prepared for an unexpected blackout can help you get back up and running quicker.  

One of the first things you should do is confirm there actually has been a power outage. Some easy ways to do this include: 

  • Check if street lights are still on. If they have also turned off there is a good chance your local area is suffering from an electricity power cut. 

  • Are both floors affected? If you live in a house and find that your electricity still works downstairs, then the issue is likely with your home’s trip switches.

  • Are the neighbours affected? If you live in a flat, check to see if your neighbours are also experiencing a blackout.

  • Are you up on your bills? If you are on a prepayment meter, make sure your credit is in balance and you haven’t simply run out. 

Faults in your wiring or a blown fuse can cause your home to fall into a blackout, and in many cases simply requires you to reset the trip switch. Do not attempt this if you do not feel confident doing so – a qualified electrician will be able to confirm if there is something wrong with your wiring and reset your electricity if needed. 

If you are still not sure you can check with the network distributor if there has been a power cut. UK energy suppliers are not able to assist if you’re experiencing local power cuts, so do not waste time calling your supplier. 

In the UK, power cut statuses can be checked either online at the Energy Networks website or by calling 105. 

Who should I contact about a UK power cut?

If you don’t know who your network distributor is, you can also double check this at the Energy Networks website by typing in your postcode. If you are struggling to find the correct information, you can call your supplier as they will be able to give this information to you. However, as mentioned above, they will not be able to return power to your home. 

The National Grid power cut checker also posts updates to Twitter so if you are already following this service, you can get convenient updates right to your smartphone. 

While you can call your distributor to report the issue and ask for updates, it is unlikely that this will expedite the process. UK power cut issues, fortunately, don’t tend to last very long and you can be assured that your distributor is working to restore power even if you do not tell them your home is affected.

Experiencing a power cut: checklist

In the event of a blackout, there are some things you can do to ensure that your home is running 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.

Help during a power cut: UK energy supplier Priority Service Registers 

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

This is a service provided by both network suppliers 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

After a power cut: compensation

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

You can only receive compensation 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:

  • If an electricity power cut was planned but your distributor did not provide two days’ notice, you can claim £30 within 30 days of the incident.

  • If you experienced a power cut for more than 12 hours, you can claim £75 and £35 for each subsequent 12-hour period you are left without energy (this is only if less than 5,000 homes were affected).

  • If more than 5,000 homes were left without power, the compensation rate is the same, however, it will cap at £300.

  • If the issue was due to bad weather such as storms or flooding, you may be able to claim £70 for the first 24 hours and £70 for each following 12-hour period. Payments will cap at £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.

Ben GallizziEnergy Expert - Nov 13th 2019