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Millions of online Christmas presents delayed by snow

Thousands of families have been told they could have a miserable Christmas because online gifts may not be delivered and homes could go without heating.

A backlog of around four million parcels has developed as private carriers struggle to overcome delays caused by the snow and ice.

And with the predicted second big freeze about to grip the UK it will only get worse, experts said.

The news came as MPs were told rocketing oil prices and restricted deliveries could also mean thousands of homes going without heating this winter.

The Government admitted the situation could become “very serious” if it snows again. Many homes may have to wait for as long as four weeks for oil to be delivered. In the last month alone prices jumped from under 40p a litre to more than 70p in some cases, amid allegations oil companies are fixing their prices.

The Office of Fair Trading will look for any cases of price-fixing, Energy Minister Charles Hendry told the Commons.

Parcel and carrier management firm Global Freight Solutions said it could be the first year in which depots and offices do not clear all their gifts.

“This year in Scotland and the North East it is likely Father Christmas won't be coming,” said Simon Veale, director of the company.

Dealing with the backlog was like “bailing water out of a sinking ship”. Carriers began restricting the number of non-urgent packages they will deliver to try to ensure essential items reach their destinations on time, he added.

The Royal Mail delivered 7,000 rounds on Sunday to around one million addresses.

Managing director Mark Higson said: “This is the worst December weather the UK has seen for almost 30 years.”

The Association of Train Operating Companies said it will run “ghost trains” to help keep routes open and have hundreds of ground staff on duty to try to keep key junctions and points clear of snow, as well as clearing and gritting platforms and station approaches to improve passenger safety.

Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations and customer services, said: “We have pulled in even more manpower and machinery to help tackle the bad weather ahead.”

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