We’ve got the power … or have we?

I woke up this morning to find that my bedside alarm-clock-radio was off, which could only mean one thing: a power cut. That had me worried, because I had heard on the radio yesterday night that people in Neasden (north London) were experiencing an outage which had gone on for 24 hours and were being provided with hot drinks by the power company. This morning, clearly, it was our turn down here in New Malden.

Some of my family were still in bed, and the other just went back to bed. Not me. I went downstairs to find a number for the electricity company, EDF. The only numbers turned out to be 0800 numbers, which are supposed to be free, but if you’re calling from a mobile, they’re not. In fact, they’re not only not free on my tariff, but they are not even included in my allowance. Why, you might ask, didn’t I just call from the house phone? Because it’s a cordless, and this particular type of phone needs the mains to work.

So, I start off by calling the London area number (New Malden is, after all, in a London borough and has an 020 number), and when I tapped my home phone number into their system (to identify which house I was calling from), it just cut me off. So I called the “south-eastern area” number, tap my number in, and I’m asked if I’d like a ring-back or if I’d like to wait. I push the number for ring-back, listen halfway through a slowly-delivered recorded lecture, and hang up.

When they fail to call me back after some time, I try the “call and hang on” method. They played the same snippet of an electric piano instrumental over and over again, periodically interrupting it to tell me I was being held in a queue and should hold on. They did not tell me, as certain other computerised answering systems do, where I actually was in the queue. Eventually, I just hung up, because I had no idea how much all this was costing me. My sister eventually did get through (after half an hour of trying), and it was explained to her that there were problems at (or near) a nearby sub-station and that engineers were onto it.

I myself got my call-back three hours after I placed the request and was given a more advanced explanation - that they were going to try to rectify it by putting a fuse back in, and if the power failed again after a short while, they would investigate trouble with the cables. Power eventually came back around mid-day, but went out again about 5pm, but by the time I got back home (about 8:30pm) it was back on, although it has flickered once or twice as I’ve been writing this, strangely never taking out my computer, or even dimming my monitor, although it has cut my internet link a couple of times.

Of course, power cuts are unavoidable from time to time, particularly in severe weather (not that what we’ve had the last three days - just a lot of rain - really counts as severe) and when people sabotage or steal the equipment. The problem is simply that the means of contacting them should be simpler, and that it should be possible to report a power-cut with a standard-rate phone call, if not a free one. I might add that the company’s website address is not exactly obvious: edfenergy.com. It should be edf.co.uk, which at the moment doesn’t point to any website, although it’s registered by EDF Energy’s parent group, Electricité de France. I intend to fax or write them and raise this point, and will probably write to the Surrey Comet as well.

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