28,000 mortgage payment break applications have been processed or are currently being worked through by the banks in the last week since the initiative got under way. 

It follows a plan put in place by the main lenders to help people cope with financial difficulties arising from the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. 

According to the Banking and Payment Federation Ireland (BPFI) between 8,000 and 10,000 payment breaks for small and medium sized enterprises have also been granted or are in the process of being signed off. 

Bank call centres have been inundated with inquiries and requests for help from customers, with as many as 7,000 calls a day being received at different stages of the last week since the payment deferral plan was announced. 

The banks have had to reallocate staff from other duties to cope with the surge in contacts as well as cope with much higher than normal absenteeism rates, as staff call in sick or need to stay at home to mind children or vulnerable family members. 

New website application processes have been introduced by many of the lenders to help manage the volume of requests for payment breaks. 

However, the banks have been criticised for not committing to ensure mortgage interest will not accrue for those who cannot make mortgage payments. 

Instead, the interest during the payment break will be added onto the total still owed and will be paid off at a later date. 

Yesterday Sinn Féin's finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said the banks would profit from the Covid-19 pandemic and this was 'outrageous'.

He called on the Central Bank and the Minister for Finance to step in and force banks to step up to the plate at a time of national emergency. 

Meanwhile, BPFI Chief Executive Brian Hayes also confirmed that work on increasing the contactless payment limit from €30 to €50 is ongoing and it is hoped that it will be completed nationally by Wednesday. 

He said demand for cash has fallen 20%. 

"Several parties including banks, retailers and technology companies have been working closely together on the rollout," he said. 

"Due to the many technicalities involved there is no central method by which this can be delivered, but rather it is case of all parties working together to ensure consumers can avail of the new limit of €50. We are confident that it will be complete by April 1st."