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Customers failed during Storm Arwen set for redress

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A million homes in Britain lost power in November 2021 as Storm Arwen wreaked havoc. Network companies have set aside a further £10m in redress payments while a review of the compensation cap will take place.

While a million homes lost power during the storm, with the worst affected areas in the North East England and Scotland, 75,000 were left without power for over 48 hours. Nearly 4,000 were left coping in “appalling conditions” without power for over a week.

The regulator, Ofgem, and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have told network companies to do better.

As part of their review to see what went wrong and what the industry needs to change for a better response to future severe weather events, a number of recommendations have been set.

Three Distribution Network Companies NPg, SSEN and ENWL which are responsible for converting high voltage electricity from the transmission network into a lower voltage, and for delivering it to homes and businesses, have already paid £30m in compensation to affected customers.

But they have also agreed to pay a further £10.3m in voluntary redress payments to affected communities. This will be through contributions to community funds and in donations to vulnerability support charities. Ofgem said money will go directly to customers and charity projects, though it has yet to finalise the full details.

Findings of the review

Ofgem said some affected customers remained off power for an “unacceptable amount of time”, they received poor communication from their network operator and compensation payments took too long.

Their emergency plans weren’t sufficient to deal with the scale of damage that resulted from Storm Arwen. Northern Powergrid didn’t directly contact vulnerable customers on the Priority Services Register before the storm hit and Ofgem said this should have been carried out as part of its planned winter preparedness campaign.

It also accepted that its call centre fell below standards which Ofgem said potentially may be in breach of licence conditions. As such, customers had to deal with poor and inaccurate communications.

And more than a quarter (28%) of customers were given a restoration time that was not within 24 hours of their actual restoration time.

Next steps for network companies

The network companies have been told to submit their winter preparedness plans to Ofgem so it can make sure all customers are supported during power disruptions. They should also stress test websites and call centres, and come up with mechanisms to pay out compensation payments quickly.

Further, Ofgem recommends that they should voluntarily lift the compensation cap, as they did during Storm Arwen. A review into the compensation payment scheme and whether a cap is still appropriate will be commissioned.

Currently customers are entitled to compensation if they have been without power for a prolonged period of time. This stands at £70 for domestic/non-domestic customers if the power was off for 24 hours (Storm Category 1) or 48 hours (Storm Category 2). Ofgem checks and verifies storm categories. Customers can get a further £70 for each additional 12 hours of being without power, up to a total of £700.

‘Network companies need to do better’

Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, said: “Distribution network companies faced challenging conditions in the aftermath of Storm Arwen. However, it was unacceptable that nearly 4,000 homes in parts of England and Scotland were off power for over a week, often without accurate information as to when power would be restored.

“Network companies need to do better, not just to prevent power disruptions, but to ensure that when power is off, they work smarter to get people back on power quicker, and keep customers informed with accurate and timely information. This is the very least customers should be able to expect.

“The frequency of extreme weather events is only set to increase so it is really important that industry, and those involved more widely, learn from Storm Arwen to better respond in future.”

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