Page last updated at 21:43 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Third cold weather payment to cope with freeze

Icy weather in Strabane
Weather has made roads treacherous in towns like Strabane

The prolonged freeze has led to a third cold weather payment being made to people on benefits in Northern Ireland.

A severe weather warning remains in place for motorists as the cold spell continues to make driving conditions treacherous.

Rain, sleet and snow fell overnight on already-icy roads and temperatures overnight plunged to -5 C in rural areas.

The Roads Service said ice-free roads could not be guaranteed.

Spokesperson Colin Brown said: "The difficulty we have is rain. It can affect the amount of salt we put down and the effect it has on it.

"Just be very wary. Motorists at all times should be appreciative that conditions change and they change very quickly."

A new weather warning has been issued and will remain in place until 1200 GMT on Wednesday.

A number of schools across Northern Ireland will be closed on Wednesday, due to icy weather and in some cases, heating problems.

Lisnagarvey High School in Lisburn will be closed until Friday due to a burst pipe.

Dundonald High School will also be closed on Wednesday and Thursday, but GCSE pupils studying learning for work and life should attend according to their exam timetable.

Graham Furey, President of the Ulster Farmers Union, said that the weather was hitting deliveries and collections for farmers as well as making it harder to ensure stock was fed and watered.

"The major problem seems to be in getting feed into animals whether delivered by lorries in bulk or getting product off farms," he said.

"The main roads have been well gritted and are good and clear, if you live along a main road there are no major problems, but once you get on to minor roads, it's effecting everybody in the rural areas.

"We know that its hitting people in town areas as well in housing estates with gritting problems."

Payments

As the icy conditions continue, the government announced it would make a third round of cold weather payments.

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie said on Tuesday that an additional £25 would be paid automatically to about 166,000 people on low incomes to help with heating costs.

Giant's Causeway
The Giant's Causeway has been closed because of the weather

"This third payment of £25 will be paid automatically by the Social Security Agency to qualifying customers throughout Northern Ireland. There is no need to make a claim," the minister said.

"This means that qualifying customers will be getting a total of £75 to help them meet increased fuel bills during this exceptional and sustained period of cold weather."

Anyone in the agricultural industry who needs urgent help is being asked to contact the Roads Service.

Last month was the coldest December in almost 30 years, according to readings taken at the Armagh Observatory.

The mean temperature was 1.5 C, the coldest average measurement since 1981.

However, December was sunnier and drier than normal with 53.3 hours of sunshine, about 40% more than normal for the time of the year.


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