Three tenants have been awarded compensation after the Workplace Relations Commission found they had been discriminated against by a landlord who refused to accept the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).

The tenants joined cases to take their claims to the WRC after their landlord refused to complete the paperwork and accept HAP payments.

In the first decision of its kind, the WRC ruled that the protection from discrimination extends to not only prospective tenants but also sitting tenants.

The three cases were brought against the same landlord and heard together.

The landlord contended that it was not obliged to accept HAP as the new law did not apply to existing tenants.

HAP was introduced to replace the Rent Supplement and payments are made directly to landlords.

The Equal Status Act was expanded in January last year to prohibit discrimination against people in receipt of HAP or other social welfare payments being provided with accommodation.

However, until this case the WRC had not made a determination on whether the new grounds extended protection to existing tenants if they became eligible for HAP during the course of their tenancy.

The three tenants approached the Citizens Information Centre (CIS), as they were experiencing financial difficulties meeting their rental costs.

They were all successful in applying for HAP but the landlord refused to participate in the scheme.

CIS referred the three tenants to the Free Legal Aid Centre (FLAC) to take their complaints to the WRC.

The cases were heard in March and after finding in their favour, the three tenants were awarded  compensation of up to €14,900 in each case.

In a statement, FLAC Chief Executive Eilis Barry said the WRC decision is significant as it clarifies that "not only that landlords cannot reject prospective tenants eligible for housing payment solely on that basis, but also that the new housing assistance equality ground also applies to existing tenancies."

FLAC managing solicitor Sinead Lucey said this was an important test case.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said that in the middle of a housing crisis, any assistance the State could give to ensure tenants could maintain their tenancy was hugely significant.

She said the landlord has been ordered to pay the compensation and facilitate the tenants' access to HAP, adding that it seemed very unlikely the decision could be overturned on appeal.