The electricity in your home can go off for a variety of reasons. It may be because of an electrical fault in your property, a supply problem in the area, or because it has been cut off.
Resetting the ‘trip switch’ in the consumer unit
First of all, locate your consumer unit (fuseboard) and check whether the residual current device (RCD) and/or a circuit-breaker has 'tripped' (turned off).
An RCD is a switching device that trips a circuit under certain fault conditions, and disconnects the electricity supply. Circuit-breakers are automatic protection devices fitted in the consumer unit which switch off a circuit if there is a fault.
If the lights are not working, a lighting circuit-breaker may have tripped due to a bulb blowing. You will need to reset the circuit-breaker by switching it back on, the lights should now work. If they don't come back on, you will need to contact an electrician.
If your home's power sockets aren't working, a circuit-breaker and/or the RCD may have tripped due to a faulty appliance being plugged in. You will not be able to reset either of the devices until the faulty item has been unplugged from the circuit. If you are not sure which appliance has caused the problem, unplug all appliances, reset the circuit breaker and/or RCD by switching it back on. Plug each appliance back in, one by one, until the faulty item (which trips the circuit) is found.
If you cannot reset the circuit breaker and/or RCD even with all the appliances disconnected, call a qualified electrician.
For large appliances that are wired into a circuit such as a cooker or immersion heater, check whether the circuit breaker has tripped and try to reset it. If this does not work, call an electrician.
If the residual current device and/or circuit breaker has not been tripped, there may be a power cut in your area. Your local electricity network operator or supplier should be able to tell you if a power cut has occurred and, if so, how long it's likely to last.
If there has been a power cut, switch off and unplug any expensive electrical items such as your hi-fi, TV and computer - this will prevent them getting damaged when the power returns. If you need to use candles for light, never leave them unattended.
You may be able to claim compensation from your supplier if:
- the power cut lasts for more than 18 hours, or
- in one year, you have more than four power cuts of at least three hours each, or
- you suffer particular hardship as a result of a power cut.
Disconnection for works
Your supplier may occasionally need to disconnect your electricity supply in order to carry out essential works. You should be given written notice of this in advance.
If you particularly need power in your home - for example, if you are elderly or have a medical condition - get in touch with your supplier. They should be able to help you arrange an alternative energy supply (such as a generator) while the repairs are being carried out.
Disconnection due to unpaid bills
If you have not paid your electricity bill, it's possible that your supplier may have disconnected your energy supply. However, this should only be a last resort for your supplier, and you should always be given plenty of warning.
There are steps you can take if you are having problems paying your bills. You should contact your supplier as soon as possible to discuss the options you might have.
Disconnection by your landlord
Your landlord may be guilty of harassment if they remove or restrict your access to essential services such as gas, electricity or water, or fails to pay the bills so that these services are cut off. Harassment by a landlord is a serious criminal offence. You may be able to get help from the council's tenancy relations officer, or take your landlord to court.
If you are in this situation, use our directory to find an adviser who can help you.
Making a complaint about an energy supplier
If you are not happy with the service you receive from your supplier you can make a complaint. If you are not satisfied with their response, you may be able to take your complaint further. Visit the Energy Ombudsman website for more information.