Electricity firm's no pay policy angers blacked-out customers

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The Independent Online

About 4,000 South Wales homes were still blacked out last night as the region's electricity company announced that it would not be making any compensation payments.

South Wales Electricity apologised to customers but said it was not obliged to reduce bills under the industry's penalty rules. "The problems were caused by extreme weather, by blizzards and high winds - not by us,"a spokesman said.

The "no-compensation" statement came despite ex gratia payments of between pounds 40 and pounds 200 last month to hundreds of customers in Mid Glamorgan and Gwent who were blacked-out for up to six days because of severe icing on power lines.

Swalec claimed the two incidents were different, insisting those payments were to recognise the "unique conditions" that residents had to endure for several days.

The Automobile Association reported a much improved picture on the roads yesterday although delays will take a long while to ease. "The clear up operation is well-under way. All main roads are now open. It's just a question now of bracing ourselves for a possible new band of bad weather," a spokesman said.

Police in Dumfries and Galloway, the worst hit area in southern Scotland, worked all day to clear the roads of almost 1,000 vehicles stranded in the Lockerbie area. Some the drivers had spent a night trapped in their cars as up to two feet of snow blanketed the area. Others were evacuated to rescue centres, set up by the police, the regional council and volunteers.

Two RAF helicopters and a Cumbria police aircraft helped to identify stranded people in rural areas, needing help but with no phone lines.

The Freight Transport Association has asked the Department of Transport to consider the temporary suspension of regulations on lorry drivers' hours in order to help them cope with the delays caused by the weather. It fears members might be breaking the law by setting off after being stranded, unless the rules are relaxed.

The coldest place in Britain yesterday was Madley, in Hereford and Worcester, where temperatures dropped to -11.3C.

The weather forecast for the next few days is milder, with the threat of localised flooding as the snow thaws. London Weather Centre predicts light snow over northern parts of Scotland and later over northern England, while Wales will see sleet. Torrential rain across the south of England with extremely stormy conditions today will be followed by more snow. Wintry showers are expected over the weekend with rain, hail, sleet and snow.