STRUGGLING families may be forced to turn to moneylenders this Christmas because of delays in processing their support payments.
Low-income families face having to wait until next year for the State money but in the meantime have mounting bills.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton said the backlog in processing Family Income Supplement (FIS) applications will not be cleared until March.
Independent TD Denis Naughten said thousands of families could now be driven to borrowing from moneylenders in the run-up to Christmas.
FIS is paid to low-income working people but some are being told their claims are delayed.
Fianna Fail's social protection spokesman Willie O'Dea said it is a "horrendous" situation for families.
"The Family Income Supplement is to enable people to live from day to day. It's absurd that it takes four months to come through from the time of applying," he told the Herald.
And in practice it often takes much longer, up to six months, Mr O'Dea said. Another anomaly is that a family whose situation worsens shortly after their application is processed cannot get an adjustment for 52 weeks, he added.
Mr O'Dea called on Ms Burton to "sort out" the delays.
The Croke Park Agreement should be invoked to allow staff from other areas to be brought in to process FIS applications, he suggested.
"Part of the Croke Park Agreement agreed by the last Government was supposed to allow for the mobility of civil servants," Mr O'Dea said.
Mr Naughten said on the one hand the Government say they are encouraging those on the dole to find work, but then they are faced with "this bureaucratic barrier".
Most affected are the 8,000 families who had their payments suspended while an annual review was taken.
Mr Naughten said he has been "inundated with complaints" from struggling families throughout the country and that people affected are "relying on the approval of their social welfare top-up payment to meet Christmas bills".
To qualify for FIS, a family with one child must have a weekly income of less than €506 and a family with eight children must have a weekly income of less than €1,298.
Some 7,393 new applications and 8,173 renewal applications were waiting to be processed at the end of September.
It emerged today that applications received after November 5 will be dealt with straight- away but others on waiting lists for months are being dealt with by a separate group in Ms Burton's department.
The Department of Social Protection said recently that an "in-depth business process improvement project" had begun with regard to the FIS.