Many spent the Christmas period without power. Here's how you can claim compensation from your energy distributor.
Cooking turkey and vegetables for hordes of relatives with one small camping stove is no joke. But this was the reality for many people who were unfortunate enough to be without power for days over the Christmas period.
Thousands of homes were affected because of bad weather and flooding, with many left fuming at the sheer length of time they were without power. While electricity companies cannot be held responsible for the weather, poor planning appears to have left a shortage of staff on duty over the festive season.
What went wrong?
Ofgem, the energy regulator, is investigating and has pledged to take 'further action' if it finds evidence that electricity network operators failed to restore power quickly enough.
Under its rules energy firms should have made sure they had sufficient staff on duty to operate "properly and efficiently". Operators could be fined if it is found that they did not act appropriately.
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You might be entitled to compensation from your energy distributor if your power was off for an extended period of time. Recent bad weather aside, if a power cut lasts for 24 hours or more you are statutorily entitled to £27 for the first 24 hours and then for each additional 12 hours after (capped at a maximum of £216).
In recognition of the particular inconvenience of being left without power over the Christmas period, some distributors are stepping up and offering considerably more than the statutory allowance of £27.
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Who is my distributor?
The amount you get depends on who your energy distributor is. Your distributor is different to your supplier (the company that charges you your energy bill) so check Energy Networks or the National Grid to find yours.
Most of the Christmas power cuts occurred in the south of England and the main suppliers there are UK Power Network and Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution (SSEPD). However north Wales (SP Energy Networks) and the north west of England (Electricity North West) were also badly hit.
Both UK Power Networks and SSEPD have agreed to pay more than the statutory payment to customers without a continuous electricity supply for 48 hours or more. The payment is being doubled to £54. For those without power on Christmas Day the payment will increase to £75. If the power was out for even longer customers are entitled to a further payment for each 12 hour period thereafter.
The payments will be capped at £432 and it is estimated that they will be paying out around £4 million to customers.
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How should I claim?
As a customer of UK Power Network I checked its website which stated that if you have been without power over Christmas it will be writing to you to offer compensation. Doubtful that I would receive this letter, I got in touch myself via the online complaints form.
To my surprise I received an email back within four days informing me that I would be due compensation, and that I could also submit receipts for hotel stays and hot food for 'consideration'.
The next day I received a phone call to go over the times the power was off and confirm that I would be getting a payment (although UK Power Network would not tell me how exactly how much it was going to cough up).
If you are a customer of Scottish and Southern Energy Power Distribution it has an easy online form to fill in to make your claim.
It's worth being proactive and getting in touch with your distributor yourself, in writing, as it is quietly mentioned in the small print that any claim for compensation will only be paid within three months of the date of the power cut.
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Should you also claim on your home insurance?
Energy distributors are not responsible for the specific loss of freezer food and will not pay out a separate amount for this. As stated on the Electricity North West website: "Please note that as
Electricity North West does not guarantee a continuous supply of electricity and is not liable for any loss of freezer contents. Claims for these should be made to your household insurance."
While many policies automatically cover freezer food loss in the event of a power cut, not all do. So check your policy to see if you are covered.
Modern freezers can keep food frozen for around 48 hours if full (24 hours if half full) with the power off, but if the power is off for longer then food will defrost and should not be refrozen.
Remember a claim may affect your premiums when you come to renew. And depending on your policy terms you might also have to pay an excess. You could lose your no claims bonus, which will also cause your premiums to go up.
You will need evidence of losses, so photographs of the defrosted freezer full of food would come in handy. Calculate whether the costs and hassle are worth it in comparison to the actual losses sustained!
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