Power cut in your area? Here’s what to do and how to report it

16 December 2020 | Aimee Tweedale

You might just be watching TV, browsing the internet, or cooking dinner when it happens – suddenly, there’s a ‘click’, and you’re plunged into darkness. 

Don’t know what to do in a power cut? Don’t panic. In this guide, we’ll explain how to check if there’s a power cut in your area, or simply a problem with the power in your house. There could be many different reasons for the outage, including a fault in the network, or some planned maintenance.

What to do in a power cut

Read on to find out how to report the problem and stay safe until your electricity’s back up and running.

Is there a power cut, or a fault inside your house?

First things first: peek out the window. Are the streetlights on? Power cuts don’t always affect streetlights, but if they do, it’s a dead giveaway that the power is out in your area.

How about your neighbours’ lights? Try knocking on your neighbours’ doors to check if they’re having problems too. This is the quickest way to check if the problem’s affecting more than just your house.

What to do if the neighbours’ power is also out

If the other houses in your street have lost power too,  it’s likely there’s an outage in the area. 

In this case, here’s what to do next.

  • Switch off all your electric appliances – especially the ones that shouldn’t be left unattended, such as microwaves or heaters. You don’t want them coming back on at a random time! This will also protect your appliances from electrical surges, which can happen during power cuts.
  • Leave one lightswitch turned ‘on’, so you’ll be able to tell if the power comes back.
  • Call 105 to report the power cut to your network distributor. Read on to find out more about this. 

What to do if your house is the only one without power

If your neighbours’ lights are still twinkling away, then the problem is likely inside your house. This means you’ll need to check your fuse box.

Before you do that, take these 3 simple steps:

  • Switch everything off at the plug.
  • Leave one light switch in the ‘on’ position so you can see if the power comes back on.
  • If you have a prepayment meter, check that it’s topped up. Empty? That could be the cause of your problem, and you’ll need to activate your emergency credit, or top it up with cash.

Next, it’s time to go to your fuse box.

How to check your fuses and trip switches

Not sure where your fuse box is? It’s usually located next to the electricity meter.

Fuse boxes all look different, but yours will probably have one main trip switch, and several smaller, individual trip switches. The main switch controls the power to your entire home. The smaller switches each control a different circuit, connected to different lights and sockets in your home. 

Here’s how to check if there’s a fault with your electricity.

  1. First, turn off the main switch. 
  2. Follow up by turning off all the individual switches, one by one. 
  3. Next, turn the main switch back on. 
  4. Then, flip each of the smaller switches back on, again one by one.
  5. If any of the switches flips itself back to the ‘off’ position automatically, it has ‘tripped’. That means that there’s a fault. 
  6. You can tell where the fault is by paying attention to which switch flips. It could be telling you that something in that circuit is wrong – for example, you could have a faulty appliance plugged in. Try unplugging the appliance, and going back to step one to try again.
  7. If that doesn’t work, or if there seems to be a fault but you don’t know what it is, it’s time to call an electrician. Don’t attempt to do any electrical work yourself. 

Still no power? If your fuse box seems to be in working order, but you and your neighbours don’t have electricity, you may be experiencing a power cut.

How to report a power cut

Wondering who to contact in a power cut? Your first port of call is to alert your Distribution Network Operator, or DNO.

A DNO is a company that distributes electricity. Unlike electricity suppliers, such as OVO, these companies own the actual cables and pylons that bring power into your home.

You can find out how to contact them by calling the National Power Cut Helpline on 105. This free helpline will connect you to your DNO.

Alternatively, you can look up your DNO in our useful guide to UK Distribution Network Operators, or take a look at the handy map below, and then call them directly.

Distribution Network Operator map

What to do in a power cut: the OVO checklist

It can be unnerving when there’s an electric power cut in your area – especially if it’s dark or cold outside. 

Here are 10 top tips to stay safe during the outage.

  1. Turn everything off at the plug. This will stop any sudden surges of electricity from damaging your belongings.
  2. If you see any power lines or cables have fallen down outside, keep far away from them. These are really dangerous. 
  3. Use a torch instead of candles, if you can. Battery-powered lights are much safer – but if you do have to light some candles, make sure you put them on stable surfaces and don’t leave them unattended.
  4. Check in on your vulnerable or elderly neighbours, and ask if you can do anything to help them.
  5. Keep an eye on your chilled and frozen food. Fridges and freezers will keep things cool for a while, so don’t worry if it’s a short power cut. You can make them last as long as possible by keeping the doors closed, and even wrapping them in blankets for extra insulation. If the power is out for a couple of hours, try moving your food into a cool box along with ice from the freezer. 
  6. If you have internet connection on your smartphone, or a battery-powered radio, tune into a local radio station for updates.
  7. You might be tempted to switch on a portable gas heater, but make sure the room is well-ventilated, and don’t leave it unattended around children or pets.
  8. If you have tropical fish to take care of, they might need some extra heat after a couple of hours without power. Try adding some warm (not boiling!) water to their tank. You can also manually add some more oxygen to their tank by swishing the water around a little by hand – gently, of course.
  9. Make yourself as cosy as possible! Pile on the blankets and jumpers. You can make a hot water bottle by filling an insulated flask with hot water, and wrapping it in a sock. 
  10. And finally, once the power comes back on, it’s not a bad idea to check all your alarms are still working as they should. 

You can prepare for the next power cut by making sure you’ve got non-perishable essentials in the cupboard, a battery-powered torch, and all your important contacts and files backed up.

Having problems with your heating? It might be an issue with your boiler rather than your power. Check out our guide to common boiler problems and how to fix them. 

Once your power is back on, why not think about swapping out those old incandescant lightbulbs for energy-saving bulbs instead? Read our guide and find the best bulb to save you money and cut your carbon footprint. It's as easy as changing a lightbulb!

Want to move your power supply to OVO and enjoy 100% renewable electricity1? Switch today!

Sources and references

1 The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work.

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