THE number of people receiving state aid to pay their mortgage has jumped five-fold in just four years.
Last year almost 18,000 families received emergency aid from the Government to cover their mortgage repayments, up from 3,712 in 2007.
The payment covers only the interest portion of a mortgage, with average payments last year of €304 a month.
Mortgage experts have warned that numbers turning to the Government this year for help to pay their mortgage will rise alongside interest rates.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent show how the Celtic Tiger and wildly inflated house prices pushed up the number of claimants and the amount of money they received over the past decade.
In 2000 a total of 2,726 families sought help, receiving an average of €130 per month.
The biggest increases in applicants were seen in 2007 and 2008 as the recession took hold. The number of applicants and payments made more than doubled both years.
Last year almost 18,000 received €65.5m to cover a portion of their home loan.
Karl Deeter of Irish Mortgage Brokers has warned that expected interest rate hikes this year will push even more householders to the edge.
"I can't see how they (number of applicants) won't rise because it's becoming more popular and more necessary," he said.
"The scheme is in place to help you get over the hump, in the hope that you'll get back to work soon.
"But the end result is that there will be more people on it come the end of the year as interest rates go up and unemployment rises."
Earlier this month the European Central Bank (ECB) signalled it was concerned about inflation, implying it could increase its base interest rate from its historic low of 1pc.
But Irish banks are already increasing their rates -- with Permanent TSB hiking rates three times in just 14 months.
Those seeking the supplement apply through the Department of Social Protection, but it is not known how many people are refused the payment.
"Given the pressure on the Community Welfare Service, claim details are not always recorded on the system where no entitlement has been established," a spokeswoman for the department said.
"In these circumstances, fully reliable statistics are not available on the total number of people who applied for or were refused Mortgage Interest Supplement."
The supplement is a short-term payment designed to ensure family homes do not end up being repossessed because people can't meet mortgage repayments.
To get it, you must demonstrate that you were able to afford the mortgage when you took it out, and applicants are means-tested by community welfare officers in the HSE.
Research carried out by the Department of Social Protection, and published last July, showed that one-in-five struggling homeowners getting the state help took out a mortgage that was between six and eight times larger than their salary.
Every quarter of a per cent interest rate rise increases monthly repayments by €15 per €100,000.
If the ECB increases interest rates by 1pc homeowners would have to find an extra €120 per month on a typical €200,000 mortgage.