How to deal with power cuts in the UK

Durham County was battered by strong winds, rain and snow for more than 10 days, leaving thousands of homes in the county damaged. Northern Powergrid, said Storm Arwen it was “the worst storm in over 20 years”.

Adding to this, shortly after Storm Arwen another storm named Storm Barra made its landfall, bringing strong winds and heavy rains with it, which had been experienced across large parts of the UK.

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image of cars and house in street in snow storm

Why were there power cuts across the UK?

Storm Arwen and Storm Barra were the reasons why there were so many power cuts across the UK back in December.

Storm Barra was smaller in size and scale to Storm Arwen, so it wasn’t quite as disruptive, and Storm Arwen was the one that caused the most significant damage across the North East of England and Scotland.

In the aftermath of Storm Arwen, Northern Powergrid, the Newcastle-based electrical distribution company, released a statement which read: “We have reconnected 240,000 homes and businesses that were without power because of the extensive storm damage caused to our electricity network. We’re sorry that we couldn’t get it done quicker, because we know that it has been very difficult for our customers to be without power for such a long time.”

The energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that the UK government will review the operations of power firms following the outages caused by Storm Arwen. This comes as Northern Powergrid said "This experience has taught us that there are areas where we need to improve. In particular, in the way we use our systems to communicate with you in the event of major power cuts. We have already made some changes and will learn more lessons from the reviews that will follow."

The long delays in reconnecting and restoring the power to homes also prompted energy regulator Ofgem to warn it will take action against any network company who fails to restore power to customers quick enough. In addition, the regulator has also come to an agreement with firms to lift the £700 cap on compensation offered to those who become stunk without power.

What to do if there’s a UK power cut

There have been billions of pounds invested into the energy network making them more reliable than ever. However, despite the resources and regular maintenance, power cuts can still happen. In the event of a power cut, here’s what you can do.

  • Keep a light switched on in a prominent part of your house, just so you know when the power has been restored.

  • Switch off any electronic devices that are not essential or that shouldn’t be left unattended.

  • Check in with your neighbours to see if they have had power cuts as well and to see if they are safe. If they do have power, then your trip switch may have been activated. More on this just below.

  • Depending on the weather, wrap up to stay warm and close any internal doors to retain heat.

  • Livestock, fish and pets could be vulnerable during a situation like this. Make sure adequate provisions are available. Contact the RSPCA for more information.

  • Reach out to your network provider to report the power cut. Keep in mind that your network provider is different to your energy supplier.

  • Call 105, a free service for people living in England Scotland and Wales. You can call to report or get information about the local power cuts.

How to check your trip switch and fuses

If the trip switch is on, turn the trip switch off and back on again. If supply is not restored, then push the ‘test’ button. If the switch trips, then it is likely you have a problem with your wiring or an appliance. The trip should now be in the ‘off’ position. If the trip switch in turned on and the ‘push to test’ button does not trip the switch, then it is likely there is no incoming supply.

If the trip switch is off, try to switch it back on. If the switch stays on but the supply is still off, it is best to check if you have not turned off the main switch on the fuse box. However if the switch trips immediately, it is likely you have a problem with your wiring, an appliance, or fuse box.

What to do if you have a damaged power line or infrastructure?

  • Keep a safe distance from the hazard at all times.

  • Keep others at a safe distance from the hazard, but do not put yourself in danger in the process.

  • Reach out to your network provider immediately. In Great Britain, call 105. In Northern Ireland, call 03457 643643. In the Republic of Ireland, call 1850 372 999.

  • If someone is in danger or if there is an immediate risk to life, call 999.

Is it possible to get compensation for my power cut?

It is possible to get compensation. However, this depends on the cause of the power cut and its duration. Details about applying for compensation can be found on the Ofgem website.

Ofgem regulate and set the service levels that distribution companies must meet. These include things such as how fast network operators must restore power in normal and severe weather conditions, and compensation payments to consumers if the standards aren’t met.

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Vishal Barath

Vishal Barath

With a background in digital marketing, Vishal provides insightful articles into the latest happenings in the energy sector.