999-style helpline to be set up for power cuts as review launched into Christmas storm response
Plans for nationwide helpline to call in event of power cuts as ministers launch review into energy network companies’ response to blackouts caused by Christmas storms
A 999-style emergency helpline for households to call in the event of power cuts is to be created in the wake of the Christmas blackouts.
Ministers announced the plans alongside a two-month review into the response to the power cuts, which are now known to have affected 750,000 people over the Christmas period.
The review will look at communication with customers, companies’ staffing levels and general preparedness to deal with the problems, and the compensation process.
The plans for the new helpline – details of which are yet to be decided – emerged followed a meeting between Ed Davey, the energy secretary, and network company bosses – and just hours after Prime Minister David Cameron criticised the companies’ response to the cuts.
“We need to learn lessons,” Mr Cameron told MPs. “Some of energy companies didn’t have enough people over the holiday period for emergency response. I saw that for myself in Kent.”
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said the power network chiefs had agreed “to investigate as quickly as possible the setting up of an emergency telephone number which households can call if they experience a power cut”.
Although cordless landline phones would not work in the event of a power cut, DECC said customers could use corded landline or mobile phones to call the new number.
Mr Davey said: “I fully understand the frustration felt by people whose Christmases were spoiled because of power disruptions, but I also want to pay tribute to the hard work of the engineers who battled appalling weather conditions to try to reconnect homes as quickly as possible.
“Clearly, communications with customers must be at the heart of this review as in some cases households were not kept informed of what was being done to help them or when they were likely to be reconnected.
“In particular, people need to know how to contact the network operator in their region if there is a power cut, and we’re looking to introduce a single emergency number which people can call irrespective of where they live.”
Mr Davey said that the response to the storm had been slower than normal because of the “virtually unprecedented” scale of the disruption.
“This prevented network operators helping their colleagues in other regions as would normally happen,” he said. “So the review will also look at the contingency plans and levels of resources required so that operators can be prepared for the worst should an event like this ever happen again.”
He said companies had also agreed to “proactively contact customers who may be entitled to compensation”.
SSE and UK Power Networks, which together serve much of south-east and central southern England, have increased compensation for anyone left without power for 48 hours or more beyond the minimum payment required under regulations, and have also promised £75 to anyone who was cut off for any time on Christmas Day.
The Energy Networks Association, which represents the power networks, has increased its estimate of how many households were affected by power cuts as a result of the storms that hit Britain between December 23 and 27 to 750,000, from 550,000 previously.
It defended companies’ responses saying that the weather had “caused some of the most substantial damage to the network in decades”.
“Some areas of the network experiencing as many faults in 5 days as would normally be seen in two months. 90pc of those affected were reconnected within 24 hours and almost all within 48 hours,” it said.
By Emily Gosden, Energy Editor
6:37PM GMT 08 Jan 2014