By Claire West

Millions of British bill payers could be hit hard in the pocket if the expected severe weather conditions forecast by the Met Office cause delays to postal payments, according to Bacs Payment Schemes Limited (Bacs). Store and credit card holders alone could end up with financial penalties totalling an estimated £26.7 million.

Currently, over 2.2 million² people send credit and store card payments through the post and the snow and icy conditions combined with the already hefty seasonal demands on the postal system could mean cheques genuinely are held up "in the post", missing deadline payment dates.

Mike Hutchinson is head of marketing at Bacs, the organisation behind Direct Debit. He said: "In anticipation of more snow predicted across the country this week, we urge everyone who usually relies on the post to pay their bills to avoid penalty charges by using Direct Debit and on-line banking services instead."

Bacs estimates that weather-enforced delays could affect over 3.4 million bills that are paid using the postal system. The delays could affect just over a million people who normally send cheques to cover electricity, gas health club and gym membership, childcare, landline telephone services and subscriptions to digital or cable television.

Mike concluded: "Direct Debit can provide the peace of mind that, irrespective of the weather, bill payments will not be delayed, and late penalties will be avoided. After all, Christmas is expensive enough without adding unnecessary charges, and there are far more enjoyable ways to spend your hard earned cash during the festive season."