Power cut nearly broke a record: Compensation after a loss of electricity has defined limits, writes Mary Wilson

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THE DIRECTOR of Pavilion Recording Studios in west London was taken aback to receive a card through his door from London Electricity: 'We are going to cut off your electricity in 15 minutes, we apologise for the inconvenience and hope to restore power as soon as possible.'

'Some inconvenience,' said Rowan Laxton. 'I had a jingle company, Candle Music, in the studio that morning, and in the afternoon Janet Kaye, the singer, and Drummie of Aswad, who is producing her record, were coming in. They had booked the studio for a week.

'If they had cancelled because they couldn't get in for the first day, I could have lost pounds 10,000. And jingle companies work to such tight deadlines that they cannot afford to be told they can't record when they need to. I was furious.

'Not only was my electricity off, but as I have a BT mini-switchboard, I lost my phones as well. There is an emergency line, but you need an ordinary phone for that.

'As soon as I got the notice, I rushed out of the studio to borrow a phone. By the time I got back, the electricity had been turned off and I couldn't get in: the electronic keypad to the front door wasn't working]'

The whole of one side of the road was cut off, including an infant and junior school, where staff were worried about their boilers and what to do about lunch for hundreds of pupils.

The reason for the sudden power-cut was that two wires had melted together in the heating system of a nearby council block. It had gone wrong the day before.

London Electricity thought it had put the fault right that afternoon. Then at 4am the company was contacted again to report a loss of power.

The precise timing that an electricity company is alerted to a power failure is all-important when it comes to claims for compensation.

There are several standards of service that electricity companies adhere to. In this case two are of them are important.

The first is Notice of Supply Interruption, which stipulates that if a fault is not an emergency, the company should give at least two days' notice of a cut. If it fails to do so, it will pay pounds 10 to a domestic user and pounds 20 to a non-domestic customer. These amounts may be doubled in the near future.

More than 2 1/4 m people were affected by a total of 34,000 planned interruptions to local distribution services in Britain between 1 July 1991 and 31 March last year. Of these, 2,321 were paid compensation, totalling pounds 26,910, due to lack of adequate warning. In London, only 12 payments were made, totalling pounds 140.

The other standard which is of interest to Mr Laxton states that the company will restore the electricity supply within 24 hours after it becomes aware of a fault. Should it fail to manage this it will pay pounds 20 to a domestic user and pounds 50 to a non-domestic user, plus pounds 10 for every additional 12 hours.

These payments must be claimed by the customer within one month.

In the same period to 31 March last, 12,690,915 supplies were lost in Britain, of which 1,256,648 were not restored within three hours. There were 8,217 still out of action 24 hours later, costing the electricity companies pounds 12,060, plus pounds 860 for 86 additional 12-hour payments.

But what about Mr Laxton's case? The fault was reported at 4am, although not by him, and during the following day he was without power for four hours. He was told that it had only been repaired temporarily and that the fault had not been found.

The next day, the power was off from 9.30am to 12.30pm, and although the engineers said they were doing everything they could to keep his supply functioning, they could not guarantee it until the fault had been repaired.

London Electricity said that as the supply was restored within 24 hours after each break, no compensation is payable.

However, a spokesman said that the company does its best to look at every case individually and sympathetically. Compensation may be paid if a specific case warrants it.

Any customer dissatisfied with their electricity service should contact the local Office of Electricity Regulation to register the complaint.

(Photograph omitted)