When the lights went out

NO ONE could claim we were not warned this time!Unlike the hurricane in 1987, weather forecasters had been predicting the gales of October 27 for days.

NO ONE could claim we were not warned this time!

Unlike the hurricane in 1987, weather forecasters had been predicting the gales of October 27 for days.

But when the gales came – bang on queue – electricity distribution company 24seven seemed caught unawares.

It didn't have enough helplines set up – on the day of the storm only 7,500 out of almost 600,000 calls got through. That's one in 77 callers!

People who had been left in the dark literally were also left in the dark metaphorically, not knowing how many others were in the same situation – or, crucially, how long they'd be without power.

In the first few days the company was simply unable to cope – even though the majority of the 300,000 properties which lost power were reconnected within 24 hours.

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While it reacted quickly to call in workers from its French parent to help fix the lines, its direct communication with customers was woeful.

Even the media, trying to keep a wider section of the community informed, found it difficult to get through with phones constantly engaged.

The company's managing director Alan Carey was subjected to something of a baptism of fire – he'd only arrived at 24seven on October 1.

But he didn't make himself popular with electricity customers when he announced that normal compensation rules would be suspended because the gales were an "exceptional event."

The company eventually announced that anyone without power for more than four days after the gales would get a one-off payment of £100 – but this was much less than the nationally-agreed compensation framework.

The government's energy regulator Ofgem and the official energywatch watchdog has urged people unhappy about this decision to challenge it.

The company has made a concession by allowing people to submit their claims within three months rather than the normal 28 days.

They say these will be dealt with on their merits – but the indications are that customers will need to have a very good case to get more than the £100.

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