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I’ve had a power cut, what should I do?

It can be worrying when the electricity suddenly goes off, especially if it’s at night. Knowing what to do, how to prepare and who to contact can help put you back in control.

Here’s our guide on what to do in a power cut.

It can be worrying when the electricity suddenly goes off, especially if it’s at night. Knowing what to do, how to prepare and who to contact can help put you back in control.

Here’s our guide on what to do in a power cut.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
6 JULY 2023
8 min read
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What to do in a power cut: four simple steps

There are two types of power cuts – planned and unplanned. Electricity distributors may sometimes have to cut energy supplies to particular areas for maintenance or upgrades. You should be warned about these in advance so you can prepare.

But unplanned power cuts happen when something goes wrong. It can be unnerving when the power goes out, but having a clear plan of action can help. Here’s what to do in a power cut:

1. Check if your neighbours have power

The first thing to do is check whether it’s an actual power cut, or a problem specific to your home. Is yours the only property affected? If it’s evening, are the street lights on outside? If it’s not, check with your neighbours. If the whole street’s down, you can be pretty sure it’s a network-wide issue.

If the power is only out in your home, check your fuse box. It could just be a tripped switch that needs resetting.

2. Turn off electrical appliances

Switch off all electrical appliances to avoid a surge when the power does come back on.

Unplug sensitive devices like laptops and televisions and go round the house to make sure any appliances like hair straighteners, electric heaters, irons and cookers are turned off. They could be a fire risk if the power comes back on overnight or while you’re out of the house, or you forget they were turned on.

Keep your fridge and freezer closed as much as possible and put a blanket over them to keep them cool for longer. Food should keep for around four hours in the fridge and 24-48 hours in the freezer if you can avoid opening them.

3. Call the 105 helpline

You’ll need to contact your Local Distribution Centre (LDC) (also called Distribution Network Operator or DNO) to let them know about the power cut. They’re the ones responsible for maintaining power to your home and fixing any issues. Don’t assume your neighbours have already called – they might be assuming the same thing.

Luckily, you won’t need to remember exactly who to call in a power cut. Simply dial the emergency helpline number 105 to report or get updates about power cuts in your local area. They’ll put you in touch with your local network operator and it’s free to call from England, Scotland and Wales. It may be a good idea to store the number in your mobile phone so you've got it to hand if you need it.

If you still have internet, you can also report and track incidents online by entering your postcode on the 105 website.

You can see reported power cuts and the estimated time of restoration on the National Grid’s Power Cut Outages list and map.

Don’t bother calling your energy supplier. They don’t have control of the actual power supply and won’t be able to help in the event of a power cut.

4. Wait for the power to be restored

Your central heating system won’t work in a power cut, so you’ll want to wrap up warm, especially in the winter months. Keep doors and windows closed and block any draughts by wedging a blanket or towel under the door. Keep a close eye on anyone who is unwell, less mobile or very young.

Remember to leave one main light on so you know when the power has been restored.

Once you’re all set up at home, if you’re able, check on your neighbours to make sure they’re doing ok, especially if you live near any elderly, disabled or vulnerable people.

What to do in a power cut at night

The steps you’ll follow in a power cut at night are pretty much the same as in the day, except with one important distinction: you’ll need to locate your torches first. It helps if you can keep them in a handy spot that the whole family knows about.

Although less atmospheric, torches are much safer than candles. If you do need to use candles, make sure they’re placed on hard surfaces and out of the reach of children, pets and anything flammable. And never leave lit candles unattended.

 

What causes power cuts?

Power cuts can happen for a number of reasons. For example, damage to transmission lines, sub-stations or any other part of your local electricity network. Even birds flying into overhead cables can cause a blackout.

High winds and floods are another common culprit.

What causes cascading power cuts?

Because we have a National Grid, power cuts can sometimes cascade. This means that because of a problem somewhere, such as a fallen tree bringing a power line down, the load switches to other lines. If this sudden jump in load is too much for the other lines, they automatically trip offline to prevent damage to the equipment. This in turn shifts the load on to other lines, which also trip, potentially causing cascading outages across the network.

Did you know

The devastating damage caused by Storm Arwen in November 2021, left around 1 million homes and businesses across Northern England, Scotland and Wales without power – in some areas, for up to 12 days.

It’s estimated that claims following Storm Arwen could have cost the UK insurance industry as much as £300 million.

What is the 105 helpline?

105 is the national phone line for power cuts. It’s a free service and can be dialled from most landlines and mobiles. 105 is available to all electricity customers in England, Scotland and Wales and will put you straight through to your local electricity network operator.

The helpline was established in 2016 after research analysed by the Energy Networks Association (ENA) found that 72% of people did not know who to contact in a power cut, with 43% thinking they needed to call their energy supplier.

The power cut helpline number is a joint initiative set up by the LDCs, to make it easier for people to get through to the right team during a power cut.

Power cut contact numbers for your LDC

You can also contact your LDC directly. There are six main LDCs serving different areas of the UK:

  • UK Power Networks
    London
    Eastern England
    South East England
    Emergency: 0800 31 63 105
  • National Grid Electricity Distribution (formerly Western Power Distribution)
    East Midlands
    West Midlands
    South Wales
    South West England
    Emergency: 0800 67 83 105
  • SP Energy Networks  
    Merseyside
    Cheshire
    North Wales
    North Shropshire  
    Emergency: 0800 001 5400
    Central Scotland
    South Scotland  
    Emergency: 0800 092 9290
  • Northern Power Grid
    North East England  
    Emergency: 0800 66 88 77
    Yorkshire & North Lincolnshire
    Emergency: 0800 375 675
  • Electricity Northwest
    North West England
    Emergency: 0800 195 4141
  • Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks  
    North Scotland
    Emergency: 0800 300 999
    Central Southern England
    Emergency: 0800 072 7282

Individual LDC websites provide live updates and power-cut maps, so you can see if your LDC is aware of the problem and when they estimate power will be back on.

What is the Priority Services Register?

The Priority Services Register is a free service from power suppliers to help vulnerable customers in need. It can be useful for power cuts as you could be given advance notice of planned cuts, for example when engineering work is carried out.

You can also get priority support in a power cut. You'll get a priority number to call 24/7 and be kept updated about what’s happening. You could get personalised support, including home visits or alternative heating and cooking facilities.

Each energy network maintains its own register. This is the company that supplies energy in your area and may be different from the company you pay your bills to. You will have to complete an application form for the network you are on.

You usually can be put on the register if you’re considered vulnerable, for example if you:

  • are of pensionable age
  • are disabled or chronically sick
  • rely on powered medical equipment
  • need refrigerated medicines
  • have a hearing or visual impairment or additional communication needs
  • are in a vulnerable situation
  • have children under five in your household
  • have someone in your household with dementia.

You can also be added to the register if you need extra support for a short period of time, for example while recovering from medical treatment.

Don't forget, if you move home you may need to register with a new network.

Who is eligible for the priority services register?

You can usually be put on the Priority Services Register if you’re considered vulnerable, for example if you:

  • Are of pensionable age
  • Are disabled or chronically sick
  • Rely on powered medical equipment
  • Need refrigerated medicines
  • Have a hearing or visual impairment
  • Can’t speak or read English well
  • Are in a vulnerable situation
  • Would struggle to answer the door or get help in an emergency
  • Have children under five in your household
  • Have someone in your household with dementia.

You can also be added to the register if you need extra support for a short period of time, for example while recovering from medical treatment.

Don't forget, if you move home you may need to register with a new network.

How to prepare for power cuts

There are a few things that can make life a little more comfortable in the event of a power cut:

  • Keep a couple of torches with spare batteries in the same place (it's safer than using candles), so you can easily find them if the lights go out.
  • Make sure your mobile phone, tablet and/or laptop are charged, especially in bad weather when the risk of a power cut is more likely.
  • Store 105 in your phone. Remember, cordless phones are unlikely to work in a power cut, so use a phone with a cord or your mobile to contact 105.
  • Put together a power cut ‘emergency kit’, with a spare mobile battery pack (fully charged), extra torches, warm blankets and a first aid kit.
  • Keep a stash of food aside that can be prepared without electricity.

Most power cuts thankfully don’t last long, and you’ll soon be able to get back to normal. But being prepared and knowing who to contact can give you extra peace of mind when you’re left without your energy supply.

Frequently asked questions

Can I claim compensation for a power cut?

You may be able to claim compensation from your LDC depending on:

  • How long the power was off for
  • Whether the power cut was planned
  • If there was severe weather.

Find out more about how to get compensation for a power cut.

Does my home insurance cover damage caused by a power cut?

If you have home contents insurance you may be able to claim for things like food in your fridge and freezer going off because of a power cut. 

If your business was disrupted by a power cut and you incurred losses, you may be able to claim on your business insurance

How long can food last in a freezer without power?

Food in a half-full freezer should be safe for up to 24 hours (48 hours if the freezer is full). However, the quality of the food may suffer, so be wary. 

Food in the fridge should be okay up to four hours without power. If the power cut lasts longer, perishables like meat, poultry, fish and eggs should either be used or may need to be thrown away. It’s better to be safe than sorry – so, if in doubt, throw it out

Does my home insurance cover storm damage?

If you suffered a power cut and damage to your home because of a storm, you should be able to claim repair costs on your home insurance

You might also be covered for temporary alternative accommodation. if you’re without electricity and heating, especially during the winter. Check your policy details to be sure.

Sajni Shah - Consumer expert on utilities and money

Sajni is passionate about building products, allowing Compare the Market to help you make great financial decisions. She keeps track of the latest trends and evolving markets to find new ways to help you save money.

Learn more about Sajni

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