Personalized power cut

Last night, at about 11.30 pm, all the power in my flat (apartment to you Americans) suddenly went out. My first thought was it was a blown fuse, which I have experienced in this place before, but there are separate fuses for lights, plugs, etc., and this was everything. More like a power outage. I fumbled about in the dark a bit, found a torch (flashlight to you Americans), and went outside. The street lights were all on as normal, and some nearby houses also were showing lights. More to the point, lights were also on in the flat below mine. (My flat is the upstairs of a converted two-storey house, with another flat below.) This was worrying. In my experience power cuts normally affect a whole area, at least a block or two, not a single dwelling in a larger building.

Could I have been cut off for non-payment of bills by the power company? It is true that I have not paid my bills lately, but that is not because I am unwilling or unable to pay, but because they have not sent me any bills! The billing system of EDF energy is completely screwed up (it has been in the news, apparently thousands of people have been having problems with their billing) and they simply have not been billing me over the past several months. Recently I did receive a bill, but it was for the period before I moved into the flat, so not my responsibility. I sent it off to the letting agent (who seemed to accept that it was their responsibility, not mine). I do not know if it has actually been paid yet, but even if not, it was not a final demand, so should not have led to the flat being cut off. I have been in touch via email with the power company begging them to send me a bill for the period I actually have been living here, but so far no dice. Surely they would not cut me off for non-payment when they haven’t even billed me? Even if they were going to (possible, I suppose, given the company’s manifest screwed-upness) surely it would not be policy to do such things without warning, late on Saturday night of one of perhaps the coldest night of the year.

I concluded that there must have been some sort of fault within my own flat. Perhaps a short in the incoming power line, or perhaps some sort of surge had caused all the fuses to blow at once. You have to climb up a stepladder to reach the fuse box, and the fuses are the old-fashioned sort where you actually have to replace the melted fuse wire with a new bit of wire, dealing with fiddly holding screws. I was not going to do that in the dark and dog tired. I got myself to bed by torchlight, anticipating waking up to a freezing cold flat (it was already well below freezing outside - the heating is gas, but controlling it, even turning it on, depends on electricity - with plans to check the fuses first thing, and then, if (as I thought likely) they were not the problem, anticipating a long, difficult and probably expensive day trying to locate an emergency electrician who would work on a Sunday, without either internet or phone to help me. (My only phone is a cordless, so it needs power. My internet depends on my broadband modem/router that also has to plug in. All the other wireless networks in the vicinity seem to have pretty good security.) My best bet, I thought as I fell asleep, would be to drive over to my 90 year old uncle’s place (hoping he would be in), and try to find someone to help from there. It might not be easy. In Britain, few businesses are open, and few people work on a Sunday.

Well, when I woke up the power was back on (thank goodness!). Judging by the time shown on my flashing digital electric clocks, it was only off for about half an hour. It must have resumed just a few minutes after I went to bed. The heat was on, and a light in the other room, and the whole place was actually rather too hot for sleep time.

So now I am left wondering what happened. Has anyone else here ever experienced anything like this? Is it plausible that there could be a fault in the power distribution system that would affect just one dwelling? (I suppose a few other people nearby might have been affected, but, as I say, the people below me, in the same house, were not.) If so, is it plausible to think it could have been fixed within half an hour, on a freezing cold Saturday night? (Especially considering that I had not been able to “call it in.” Even if my phone had been working, prior experience with EDF’s phone-in customer service system leads me to think that I would not have got through.)

My best guess is that someone at the company (or perhaps their computer) deliberately cut me off, perhaps as a result of the confusion surrounding the billing issue, and then, within half-an hour, realized their mistake and turned me back on. Even so, it seems a weird thing to have happened late on a Saturday night. Can anyone offer a better explanation?

what kind of meter do you have? could be a fault in it.

we call those “flats” too.

If Britain is anything like the US, not getting a bill doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay it. It means you need to call them and get it cleared up. Until you call them, they have no way of knowing you aren’t getting a bill. And if you aren’t getting a bill for some reason, the cut-off notices probably won’t get to you either. I hope your phone number is correct on the account.

You’re power is back on so that clearly wasn’t the case, but you should probably call them. As of right now, you already owe them for all the power you’ve used since the last time you’re account was at zero. Some people seem to think that not getting a bill means the energy was free that month, but it’s not the case. You’ll probably be able to work out a payment plan and be able to pay the last few months (or whatever it is) over the next few months, but the longer you wait, the more you’ll owe.

Around here, there was also a screw up with some meters and people not getting billed correctly, but when the electric company figures it out, they’ll send you a bill for what you owe. They made a statement a few years back saying that by law they have X number of years to correct errors and if you ever notice a problem with your bill (like, it’s $25 when it’s normally $172), it’ll be easier for everyone if you just call now rather then pay it and hope they don’t figure it out. This happened because a few people that normally paid a hundred or so a month suddenly got bills for about a thousand because of some old errors that finally caught up with them.

I don’t know. What kinds are there? It shows numbers on tumblers that turn, like a mileometer, not digital or anything. Are you saying that there could could have been some sort of temporary glitch in the meter that cut me off?

I am aware that I will eventually have to pay (and concerned about it). I guess you missed this bit:

I have tried phoning them too, but I can’t get through. Their phone system is also screwed up. I have had a reply to my email (not that they make it easy to get through to them that way either), but still no bill. They apparently do not know what I owe (despite the fact that I have had the meters read by their people, twice).

Also, they do have my physical address and I do get mailings from them, just not bills. I also have an an online account page where bills should show up, but there aren’t any there.

This may all be unconnected with the outage I have experienced.

If it were non-payment, I’d have thought they should have been in touch about a prepayment meter.

I suppose it’s possible; I was more curious if you had some sort of smart meter or something. If it’s a conventional power meter I don’t know how they could just cut your power (and yours alone) without sending someone out to physically disconnect your drop.

Yes, I did miss that bit. Also, it’s likely unrelated to the outage and the mailings you get that aren’t bills probably come from another system. Anyways, if you’ve been doing all this and still can’t get a bill, I’d contact some sort of consumer protection authority. In the States, it would be the [your states] Attorney General. I’m not sure who it would be over there, possible the Office of Fair Trading, but you have to go through something called the Consumer Direct, not sure what that means.

Given the utility company’s lack of response thus far, I think it’d be easier to ballpark what he thinks he would owe in electric every month, add $20 to that, and put that amount into a savings account. That way if/when they finally bill you, the money’s been set aside all along. Like an electricity escrow account of his own making.

It seems silly that they don’t want to bill you, though. Usually that’s the one part of a company that’s run the best. Everybody wants their nickels in order.

I dunno man, the power company needs to jump through some pretty big hoops to be able to cut off power. They’d be calling you and mailing you and poking at you before it got to that point. You said they’ve sent you unrelated mailings, so they have your address.

Perhaps the gas man had been there earlier?
link to SFW youtube video


Just to update: on Monday I did finally manage to get through to someone at the company by phone, since when I have actually received a bill (and paid it).

The outage I experienced, however, remains a mystery. The person I spoke to had no idea about it. (She also had no idea what had happened to the information presumably gathered by the company’s own meter readers when they visited. The bill I got was based on readings I made myself.)