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What to do in a power cut

Photo of a candle during a power outage

One of the most frustrating aspects of a power outage is that feeling that there’s nothing you can do. However, you’re not as powerless as you might think. There are several steps you can take to make your home safer when the power is out. 

Furthermore, you can prepare now for power cuts in the future so you’re in control the next time the lights go out. 

Contents

  1. What to do in a power cut
  2. How to determine whether or not there’s been a power cut
    • How to check for issues with your trip switches
  3. Who to contact about a power cut
    • How to find out who your network operator is
    • Power cut compensation for businesses and domestic users
  4. How to prepare for future power cuts

 

What to do in a power cut

    1. Use candles and torches — Walking around in the dark can be hazardous. Make sure you have a torch or some candles at hand to light up the room before you take action.
    2. Switch off electrical items at the wall — Electricity can come back in short bursts known as ‘surges’ during a power cut, which means electrical items like TVs and computer chargers can be dangerous if left plugged in. Carefully switch off any appliances at the wall and only turn them back on again once power has consistently returned for a few minutes.
    3. Keep freezers and refrigerators closed — Food that defrosts due to a power outage may not be safe to freeze again. Keeping the doors closed keeps food safe to eat for longer.
    4. Go somewhere else to stay warm — If it begins to get cold during a power cut, go to another location where there is heating available. Do NOT heat your home using gas-powered appliances like stoves and cookers. 
    5. Only use generators outside — Gas-powered generators should always be used outdoors. They should be no less than 20 feet away from any windows. 
    6. Check on at-risk neighbours — If less able-bodied neighbours have been hit by the power cut, go and check on them. They may need assistance to keep warm and safe from electrical surges.

How to determine if there’s been a power cut

There are a few situations that can cause your facilities to suddenly lose power. Before taking action, you should determine whether the loss of electricity is due to a wider outage in the area or if it’s a problem with the wiring in your house or building. 

  1. Check to see if street lights are still on outside — Power outages in your area will hit street lighting, too. If the street lights are still on, it’s probably a problem with your building alone.
  2. Check to see if your neighbours have power — If so, it’s likely that the issue is only affecting your property.
  3. Check your meter — If you’re on a pre-paid meter, you’ll lose power if you run out of credit. 
  4. Check if there is anything that still works in your building — If your lights are all out but some of your appliances still have power, it could be an issue with your trip switches. 

How to check for issues with your trip switches

To check if the power outage has been caused by your trip switches, go to your fuse box. This box contains the fuses for all the circuits in your home or office. When you lose power, it’s possible one of these circuits has been tripped. 

Open the fuse box and flick all the switches back to the ‘on’ position. If the electricity is still not restored once you’ve done this, it’s unlikely that your trip switches have caused the power cut.

3. Who to contact about a power cut

Once you’ve taken the correct safety precautions, you may want to gather more information about the power outage. To do so, you’ll need to get in touch with your area’s network distributor, also known as a network operator.

Network operators are the companies that are responsible for distributing the electricity in any given area in the UK. They can provide you with any updates you might need to hear regarding the cause of the power cut and how much longer they expect it to last.

You can call 105 from your mobile or landline to be redirected to the network distributor responsible for your area. 

How to find out who your network operator is

You can find your local network operator and how to contact them with this list of network distributors provided on the Energy Networks website:

 

Area

Name of network operator

Contact number

North of Scotland

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks

0345 026 2554

Central & Southern Scotland

SP Energy Networks

0330 1010 300

North East England & Yorkshire

Northern Powergrid

0800 011 3332

North West England

Electricity North West

0800 195 4141

Merseyside, Cheshire, North Wales & North Shropshire

SP Energy Networks

0330 1010 300 

East Midlands & West Midlands

Western Power Distribution

0800 096 3080

South Wales & South West England

Western Power Distribution

0800 096 3080

London, South East England & Eastern England

UK Power Networks

0800 029 4285

Central Southern England

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks

0345 026 2554

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Electricity Networks

03457 643 643

Republic of Ireland

ESB Networks

00353 1850 372 757

Power cut compensation for businesses and domestic users

If your power is cut for a period long enough to impact your business or your quality of life, you could be entitled to compensation from your network distributor. 

If you are cut off for 12 hours or more in normal weather, home users can claim £75 and business users can claim £150. For each additional 12 hour period in which the power is out, you can claim a further £35, to a maximum of £300 total. You can also claim £75 if you’re cut off more than 4 times in a 12-month period for at least 3 hours each time.

In severe weather, you may only claim up to £70 whether you’re a business or domestic user. In category 1 storms, you need to be without supply for at least 24 hours to make this claim; in category 2 storms, this goes up to 48 hours. For each additional 12 hour period in which the power is out, you can claim a further £70, to a maximum of £700 total.

For more information, see Ofgem’s Quality of Service Guaranteed Standards page.

4. How to prepare for future power outages

While there isn’t much you can do yourself to restore power in the event of an outage, you can do plenty to prepare yourself for one in future. 

  1. Make a power cut survival kit — The next time the lights go out, it’ll be incredibly handy to have a useful stash of torches, batteries and back-up chargers for your phone. You should also keep it stacked with a couple of water bottles and some non-perishable snacks to keep you out of the fridge until the power returns.
  2. Make your fridge safer — Installing a thermometer in your fridge and freezer means you can check temperature changes before deciding whether or not food is safe to eat. Freezers should stay around -18°C and fridges should be around 4°C. You should also keep a bag or two of ice in the freezer to keep the food fresher for longer in extended outages.
  3. Invest in power-surge plugs — Protect your valuable electrical goods from power surges with inexpensive power-surge plugs. You should also keep any sensitive documents on your computer backed up either on the cloud or a separate hard drive.
  4. Have a plan B for medical equipment — It can be dangerous for medical equipment that runs on the mains supply to lose power for an extended period of time. Speak to your equipment supplier or local hospital about backup plans for when the power goes out so you stay safe.