Pothole misery: Drivers bill Stormont for millions over damage to vehicles
Hundreds of motorists are claiming millions of pounds from a cash-strapped Stormont department for damage caused to their vehicles by potholes, it can be revealed.
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) received 556 compensation claim forms between March 1, 2014 and February 28, 2015 - all for damage caused by potholes.
Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone said he had noticed a significant increase in the number of inquiries he got from constituents about claiming compensation for pothole damage.
The Assembly member put it down to budget cuts, with the repair of potholes one of the first areas to be hit by DRD cutbacks.
However, it is understood DRD has set aside £4.5m for pothole payouts next year.
"I know the number of queries that I have had in the office from people who have damaged wheels and similar from potholes has gone up pretty markedly in the last few months," he said.
"This probably reflects the fact that cuts to the budget of DRD.
"It is definitely the rural roads where potholes are worst.
"Even when they are noticed it can be quite a few weeks before it is repaired.
"Then the pothole deteriorates and people travelling along at night can do serious damage to their wheels or buckle their rims."
Mr McGlone said the worst potholes tended to occur following the cold weather in winter.
He said one young mother had been left traumatised earlier this year after hitting a major pothole in Ardboe in Co Tyrone on her way home from visiting a friend in hospital.
"She ruined the tyres and rims both front and rear from one pothole," he said.
"I went out and measured that pothole myself."
He added: It was three inches deep and two foot wide with sharp edges.
"It has been fixed now."
Road-users can potentially claim thousands of pounds worth of damages to their cars, depending on the severity.
One of the biggest compensation payouts recorded in Northern Ireland was paid out in 2007. A driver was handed £2,379.94 after a car was damaged by a pothole on the Lower Ballinderry Road outside Lisburn.
The department said it prioritised all defects and aimed to repair or make safe more than 90% of the most serious defects within five working days.
In January, the Belfast Telegraph reported some of the worst potholes in Northern Ireland. At that stage, DRD revealed that due to budget cuts, work given to external contractors to repair potholes had been stopped on August 8, 2014. Around a quarter of the resources required to provide a normal repair service were lost. However, funding for road repairs was restored in January.