VITAL first welfare payments for thousands of old, disabled and needy people are being delayed as a computer glitch remains unsolved. The malfunction in the Social Welfare Department computer, has meant the 4,000 - those who have made new applications for public assistance, old-age allowances and disabled allowances - have been waiting almost two months for processing. Overworked department staff say they do not have time to handle the applications manually. Previously, it took about 14 days to assess applications. According to Tsang Wai-ming, chairman of the Social Security Assistant Branch of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association, staff had stopped handling the new applications - except for emergency cases - because of the heavy workload created by the computer glitch, revealed in the Post a month ago. Director of the Society for Community Organisations, Ho Hei-wah, said it was unfair the applicants should suffer because of a mistake in the department's administration. ''They suffer not only from hunger but also from mental stress because they need the welfare money urgently for things like food, rent or school fees for their children,'' he said. ''They have to worry about staying alive day by day and count every cent they spend each day. Two thousand dollars to $3,000 may be no big deal to normal families but $20 to $30 will be of paramount importance for them.'' A spokesman for the Social Welfare Department denied there was a general problem with payments though there might be delays in some cases. ''It may be in individual cases that some applicants have to wait for a longer period because they failed to provide necessary documents like bank statements or employment letters,'' she said. She did not say how many new cases were outstanding. The new computer system implemented this month was intended to ensure welfare payments are paid directly into clients' bank accounts, but has been hit by technical problems. ''Our staff are facing heavy pressure in tackling the problem and have to work overtime every day to tackle the additional workload. We really don't have time to handle new applications except those which are urgent,'' Mr Tsang said. At present, staff have to double-check computer information against data from their principal files. They also have to help clients who cannot get their payments through banks due to the glitch. They have been told that about 500 customers cannot get their payments through banks, but Mr Tsang believed the real figure was around 1,000. But the department spokesman said no complaints had been received from clients unable to get payments through banks. Mr Tsang said his Ngau Tau Kok office had been ''like a market'' over the past few days with about 20 clients demanding cash payment because they could not receive payments through banks. Mr Tsang's union wrote to the Director of Welfare on March 30 to ask for extra staff. Yesterday, the department verbally promised to take on another 26 senior social security assistants next month to clear the backlog.