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What to do during a power cut

Your grandparents may think power outages "build character." And anyone who lived through the 70s, when the oil crisis, faulty infrastructure and industrial action regularly plunged Britain into darkness, may have dimly-lit and often fond memories of huddling around candles and paraffin lamps during rolling blackouts.

Since that decade, power cuts in the UK have been rare and mostly related to extreme weather events. But they still happen every now and then.

So if your lights suddenly flicker out and your TV shuts off, follow these steps to safely handle and report a power cut:

Is it just me or...?

First ensure it's actually a power cut and not a fault in your own wiring or supply. Are the street lights on outside? Are your neighbours' homes lit up? If so, it's probably not a power outage. You should check your fuse box to see if it's tripped. And if you have pre-payment meter, check to see if you've simply run out of credit before you dig out all the torches and light a fire in your hearth.

Contact the network distributor for your area

Your first instinct might be able to contact your energy supplier-you know, the one you carefully selected by comparing energy tariffs and pay oodles of money to every month. But they don't have control over electricity infrastructure. They simply feed enough kilowatt hours into the grid to offset your use every year.

Instead, you need to contact your local electricity Distribution Network Operator (DNO). Dialling 105, either from a mobile or landline (corded phones will still work) will connect you the network distributor in your area so you can report the outage. The DNO can then send out someone to investigate the issue and determine the extent the outage.

Consult the following list for information about your local DNO, including its individual emergency contact number:

  • North Scotland:SSE Power Distribution - Emergency: 0800 300 999
  • Central and Southern Scotland: SP Energy Networks - Emergency: 0800 092 9290
  • North East England: Northern Powergrid - Emergency: 0800 668 877
  • North East and Yorkshire: Northern Powergrid - Emergency: 0800 375 675
  • North West England: Electricity North West - Emergency: 0800 195 4141
  • Merseyside, Cheshire, North Wales and North Shropshire: SP Energy Networks - Emergency: 0800 001 5400
  • East Midlands: Western Power Distribution - Emergency: 0800 6783 105
  • Eastern England: UK Power Networks - Emergency: 0800 316 3105
  • South East England: UK Power Networks - Emergency: 0800 316 3105
  • South Wales: Western Power Distribution - Emergency: 0800 092 9290
  • South West England: Western Power Distribution - Emergency: 0800 6783 105
  • Southern England: SSE Power Distribution - Emergency: 0800 072 7282
  • London: UK Power Networks - Emergency: 0800 316 3105

Stay safe

While a brief power outage is unlikely to cause social anarchy worthy of a zombie film, you should take a few steps to ensure your safety when the lights are out.

  • Keep fridge and freezer doors closed and place a blanket over the appliance to keep its contents cooler longer. If food defrosts in a switched off fridge or freezer, bin it. Eating items that have thawed and then been refrozen can be dangerous.
  • Turn off electronic appliances and gadgets at the plug, or unplug them entirely. When the power resumes after a power cut, it can cause surges, overloading and frying electronics.
  • Stay away from downed power lines, which can still be electrified.
  • If you're using candles inside, be careful: always keep lit candles within sight; away from anything flammable, including furniture, bedding, carpets and books; and out of the reach of children and pets
  • If you have electric heating that's cut out, stay warm by bundling under blankets and donning extra clothing.
  • Check and see if your neighbours are safe, especially elderly or vulnerable ones.

Prepare in advance

Of course, it's best to prepare for a descent into darkness before it happens. Take the following precautions to ensure you're as equipped for a potential outage as possible.

  • Keep a torch handy, and stocked with fresh batteries and spares
  • Get a battery-powered radio, so you can keep up to date with news-whether it's about a hurricane or Russians
  • Don't let your mobile phone dwindle to low battery. Keep it as charged as possible at all times so you're prepared to tackle any eventuality.
  • Keep a landline corded phone that you can plug in to make essential calls. These don't require electricity to run.
  • Boil water in advance of a storm that may lead to a possible outage and store it in flasks.
  • If you need extra support during a power cut, for example if you require electricity for vital medical equipment, you should enrol on your local Distribution Network Operator's Priority Services Register, to ensure you're assisted first during a power cut. You'll still need to contact the DNO to report any outages, however.