Power cuts

A torch that has been switched on.

Power cuts (or electricity outages) can have a number of causes including severe weather, which can lead to damaged infrastructure, or system faults. 

The UK has a resilient electricity system. Most power cuts are short-lived and occur locally, but more widespread and longer outages can happen. These could potentially last several days with regional or, although unlikely, national impacts. 

Gas boilers and hobs, heat pumps and your home internet won’t work without power. Your mobile phone might stop working if your local mast is in the affected area. Mains water supply to your home could also be disrupted. Find out what to do in a phone and broadband outage, or a water outage.

Actions to take to prepare for a power cut

  • Keep a battery or wind-up torch (and spare batteries) at home. You probably won’t want to use the torch on your mobile phone as this will drain its batteries more quickly. It is not advised to use candles or any other naked flames to provide light, as these could pose a fire hazard.
  • Consider keeping some bottled water and non-perishable food that doesn’t need cooking such as ready-to-eat tinned meat, fruit or vegetables and a tin opener. You should also include baby formula and pet food if needed. 
  • Find out your power/load block letter. In the unlikely event of a national energy shortage, emergency power cuts could be scheduled on a rotating area-by-area basis. Each area in GB is assigned a ‘load block letter’ and would be scheduled to disconnect from the electricity grid for around three hours at a time. You can find which load block letter you are in by entering your postcode at powercut105.com, or some energy suppliers include it on electricity bills.
  • If you’re eligible, sign up to your energy supplier’s Priority Service Register to let them know that you need additional support during a power cut.

You would lose internet connection and possibly mobile signal during a power cut. To prepare for this:

  • Write down the phone number to report a power cut – this is 105 in England, Scotland and Wales and 03457 643643 in Northern Ireland. You can also save the number in your mobile phone.
  • Keep a battery or wind-up radio (and spare batteries) at home. There might be updates communicated by radio during a power cut. A car radio can be used, however in severe weather it might be safer to stay inside. Write down on paper the frequencies of any local or national radio stations you use for news updates. You could add these to your household emergency plan
  • It can be helpful to keep these notes with other items you might have, such as a torch or radio, and in a place that’s easy to find in the dark. 
  • If your only way of making emergency calls is through a landline phone, or if you have a telecare kit connected to your landline, contact your landline provider to understand whether your phone will work during a power cut. If your landline will not work during a power cut, your landline provider might offer you a free solution (such as a back-up battery unit), for a minimum of one hour, that would enable you to call the emergency services during a power cut if you needed to.
  • If you have a personal alarm or diabetes sensor (also known as telecare devices) or other connected equipment monitoring your health (such as diabetes sensors), speak to your device provider/manufacturer to understand how they will function during a power cut. 
  • Download or print out offline versions of maps in case you do not have access to live map-based mobile applications. To provide location services, your mobile smart phone uses a GPS signal. This means your mobile may still be able to provide your location when not connected to the network. However, map-based mobile applications rely on internet connectivity to download the maps.

Actions to take during a power cut

  • Visit your local network operator’s website to report a power cut and track updates when there’s a problem. If you’re unable to report the power cut online, call 105 for free in England, Wales and Scotland and 03457 643643 in Northern Ireland. 
  • Keep away from hazards such as power lines. Electricity at high voltages can jump gaps with no warning. 
  • Turn off items such as irons, ovens, electric fires and fryers. Unplug your TV and PC as they can be damaged if there is a surge when power goes back on. 
  • Keep warm by using blankets and layered clothing. Keep doors of unused rooms closed and close curtains to keep the heat in. Older adults, babies and young children, and people with long-term health problems are most likely to become ill if they get too cold. 
  • Check in on vulnerable neighbours and, if you are able, offer to share blankets, clothing or other supplies such as food. You can also pass on any important information you might have received about the power cut, such as when the power is expected to go back on. If you have a corded landline phone, this might still be working in a power cut. 
  • In a power cut your TV or internet might not be working. To get news updates use a battery or wind-up radio to search for stations that are still broadcasting. Try FM and digital modes. You can use the radio in your car, however in severe weather it might be safer to stay inside. 
  • If you have a power cut and you don’t have back-up power to your landline phone (or have a corded landline) and have a life-threatening emergency, you should attempt to call 999 or 112 using a mobile. You might receive overlapping signal from a nearby area that is unaffected – emergency calls automatically ‘roam’ onto all available networks.
  • Keep fridges and freezer doors closed, as this will ensure they stay cold for several hours. The Food Standards Agency provides advice on food safety in a power cut
  • To prepare baby formula safely, you will need to be able to boil water and follow the normal safety procedures.  If you are not able to boil water, please try to use ready-to-use baby formula. The NHS provides advice on making up baby formula.

Available support for those with additional needs

If you use medical equipment that requires a power supply, make a plan with your care provider and/or clinical care teams now about what will happen in a power cut. The plan should set out what action you, or someone you care for, needs to take and who to contact if there’s a power outage. Ensure that your care provider, clinical care team and/or equipment supplier has supplied you with enough information so that you understand how the equipment works and what to do if there is a power disruption.

The energy networks can help if you have additional needs because of your medical or personal circumstances. The Priority Services Register (available to customers in England and Wales, and in Scotland), is a free service to help people who have additional needs. You can sign up by contacting your local network operator and energy supplier. Each keeps their own register. If you are in Northern Ireland these are called Customer Care Registers. Wherever possible, you will receive advanced notice of scheduled power cuts. If you rely on your energy supply for medical reasons, your network operator can tell you about planned power cuts, for example, when they plan engineering work. You can also get priority support in an emergency.