Telephone number ‘105’ proposed for new electricity helpline

A new telephone service offering help and advice to people suffering an electricity power cut could be given the memorable number 105, under proposals from Ofcom.

The helpline is being planned by the UK’s electricity industry for launch in April 2016. It will provide a single telephone number for people anywhere in Britain to contact their electricity network operator to report a power cut or safety concern, or receive reassurance during a blackout.

According to industry research*, most people are unaware that power supply problems should be reported not to their electricity supplier, but to their local ‘electricity network operator’ – one of the companies that collectively run the country’s electricity networks.

This problem was highlighted during severe storms that affected the UK in the winter of 2013/14. These caused electricity disruptions for 750,000 homes, with telephone calls about the resulting problems peaking at 800,000 in the month of December 2013.

This led the Government and Energy Networks Association (ENA), which represents the UK’s energy supply industry, to plan a single-number service.

At present, each electricity network operator has its own 11-digit contact number, making it hard for people to know which number to phone to report an incident or seek urgent advice – especially during a power cut, when lights and internet access are often unavailable.

The planned new helpline would use one telephone number to connect callers, wherever they are based, to their local operator.

The Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change is working with ENA and the electricity network operators on plans for an awareness campaign that would promote the new helpline. This would also explain that the service is not intended as a substitute for the existing 999/112 service in cases of emergency.

Ofcom’s role

ENA has asked Ofcom, which manages the UK’s telephone numbers, to allocate a three-digit number to the service.

Only numbers that begin 10x or 11x can be designated as three-digit numbers for new services. Some are already in use, such as 101 (police non-emergency) and NHS 111; others are set aside for use by phone companies. This leaves only 14 three-digit numbers available for new allocation.

In a consultation published today, Ofcom considers whether a three-digit number, or an 11-digit Freephone number starting 080, would be most appropriate for the new service. Ofcom’s proposal is to allocate the number 105, which ENA has requested.

Jonathan Oxley, Ofcom Group Competition Director, said: “Three-digit numbers are memorable and quick to dial, but they are also in short supply. Before we allocate a new one, we need to consider consumers’ interests and ensure we’re making the best use of telephone numbers.

“The new power cut and safety helpline would provide clear public value, and we are proposing to assign it the number 105.”

Today’s consultation closes on 27 March 2015. Ofcom expects to publish its decision on the number application in May, around a year before the service is due to launch.