Threat of a cashless Easter is staved off

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The Independent Online
Banks had good news last night for thousands of workers dreading the prospect of a cashless Easter - their pay will be in their accounts by first thing this morning.

There was panic after wage-earners were told their pay would be up to five days late going into their accounts because of the failure of a banking system. Earlier yesterday, people who thought they might have problems were being urged to use cheques and credit cards to avoid going into the red.

Lloyds TSB said later that customers told they would not be paid until 1 April would now be able to get at their money from 4am today.

NatWest said: "We think nearly all NatWest customers will have the funds available to take out tomorrow morning."

A spokesman for the industry body, the Association for Payment Clearing Services, said he believed most of the major banks had put similar measures into place but "one or two" smaller banks and building societies may not have been able to do this.

The news will have been welcomed by those people who began their Easter breaks yesterday. At least 1.5 million people were expected to leave for a foreign holiday during the break. Airports, ports and rail stations were at full stretch.

In much of the country the rush started at lunchtime, with many people taking the afternoon off to get a head start on the roads.

Motoring organisations said yesterday was more like Friday evening, with most routes out of London and other cities jammed. Queues were expected, despite the Highways Agency suspending some roadworks.

Works on the M4 from London, one of the busiest stretches of road in the country, could not be suspended and long delays were building yesterday. The Highways Agency had a clear message: "Plan ahead, take plenty of time and be calm."

Hold-ups were not helped by a 20-car pile-up on the eastbound carriageway of the M4 in Berkshire last night in which several people were injured.

With the weather forecast to be fair over the weekend, particularly in southern England, the AA and the RAC predicted congestion on routes to major attractions and the coast for today and tomorrow.

An RAC spokesman said: "We had 20 miles of queues on the M6 near Birmingham at lunchtime and also heavy congestion on the M25 west of London."

Heathrow airport had its busiest day over the holiday period yesterday, with 90,000 passengers leaving for foreign climes. UK airports are expected to handle about 900,000 passengers over the Easter period; 1.2 million passengers will pass through Heathrow during the period from last Wednesday to Easter Tuesday - 42,000 more than last year.

Heathrow reported that New York and Paris were the two most popular destinations for its passengers this Easter.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents, people leaving in search of sun are mainly making for the Canary Islands and Majorca, while those travelling further afield are taking breaks of up to 10 days in Florida or the Caribbean.

The main ferry operators expect 350,000 people to travel to the Continent. Eurotunnel was hoping to take 110,000 passengers through the Channel Tunnel on Le Shuttle trains - 10 per cent more than Easter last year, while Eurostar was expecting to carry about 80,000 passengers to Paris and Brussels over the holiday period.