Wintry weather provided a much-needed boost to UK clothing and footwear sales in December, helping lift total sales for the month to a five-year high.

The latest numbers from the British Retail Consortium showed like-for-like sales rose 4.2% from the same month a year earlier when turmoil in financial markets pushed consumer confidence to a low.

Total were 6.0% higher, the BRC said, making this the best December performance since 2005.

Non-food non-store sales, including internet, mail-order and phone sales soared 26.5% higher than a year ago after some shoppers bought online when snow prevented them getting out.

The figures were "stronger than we dared hope for," said Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium.

"After a surprisingly muted November, this is the best total sales growth for a December since 2005 and goes well beyond just making up for the sales fall the sector suffered a year ago," he added.

"The figures were certainly helped by the comparison with last December's terrible results but customers clearly felt more confident about spending than they have for some time."

Sales growth in the five weeks from 29 November 2009 to 2 January 2010 was also boosted by the cut in VAT, with December being the first and only month where the 15% rate is the same as a year earlier.

And while snow kept people away from the shops for a time, they made up for that in the days just before Christmas and in the sales events that began immediately afterwards.

Even so, Robertson warns: "With customers now reacquainting themselves with concerns about jobs and tax rises there is a risk that a healthy December may be only a temporary respite on the painful road to recovery."