FAMILIES looking for income supplements in the run-up to Christmas face having their welfare applications delayed until March.
The Family Income Supplement (FIS) is paid to low-income working families to help people come off the dole, but the scheme has been plagued by delays.
Now, some families are being told their claim applications will not be dealt with before Christmas.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has confirmed that applications received after November 5 will be dealt with straight away, while others on waiting lists since as far back as June are being dealt with by a separate group in her department.
Ms Burton said the backlog will not be fully cleared until March.
Roscommon-South Leitrim Independent TD Denis Naughten said thousand of families could be driven into the arms of moneylenders in the run-up to Christmas.
"On the one hand the Government say they are encouraging those on the dole to find work, but when they do, they are faced with this bureaucratic barrier of the Government's own making," Mr Naughten said.
Particularly affected were 8,000 families who had their payments suspended pending an annual review as long as five months ago.
"In the last 10 days I have been inundated with complaints from struggling families throughout the country who are relying on the approval of their social welfare top-up payment to meet Christmas bills," he added.
A range of FIS payments are available to families on different incomes. To qualify, a one-child family must have a weekly income of less than €506, while a family with eight children must have a weekly income below €1,298.
At the end of September, there were 7,393 new applications and 8,173 renewal applications awaiting decision.
Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that expected cuts to the disability allowance for under-18s and changes to payments for parents of disabled children are off the table for the Budget.
Both the disability allowance paid to 16 and 17 year olds and the domiciliary care allowance are likely to be spared the axe on December 5.
The Coalition was forced into a U-turn after last year's Budget when its plan to stop paying disability allowance directly to 16 and 17 year olds met strong opposition.
However, it was expected the Government would return to the issue this year. Currently, a domiciliary care allowance is paid to the parents of a child with a disability until the child is 16, after which he/she goes on disability allowance themselves.
The maximum disability allowance payment is €188 per week and the domiciliary care allowance is worth €309.50 a month, although those in receipt of the payment may also qualify for carer's benefit and carer's allowance.
An expert group, chaired by Ita Mangan, recently gave a report to Ms Burton which is understood to have recommended that the minimum qualifying age for the disability allowance payment be increased from 16 to 18.
However, Ms Burton is awaiting another, separate report, from a group headed up by Sylda Langford, chair of the Citizens Information Board, on domiciliary care allowance.
Senior coalition sources said the second report will not be completed until the end of the year. Both allowances are "totally interlinked", and one payment cannot be changed on its own, sources said.