Disputes Tribunal 

What are some tips for solving disputes?

Try to:

  • stay cool - resolving issues may take some time and often it’s a good idea to sleep on it
  • listen to and understand what the other person is saying even if you disagree -  show you have heard what they are saying
  • state your point of view and what you want calmly
  • be specific and factual and be sure of your opinions and experience of the situation
  • invite co-operative solution finding – focus on ways to solve the problem to everyone’s satisfaction
  • take the other party’s perspective into account
  • compromise - sometimes the solution to a problem will not be what you had in mind to begin with

Try to avoid

  • preparing an attack, labelling, threatening, arguing every point
  • defensiveness, self-justifying
  • denying there is a problem or minimising someone’s concerns

All of this, and more, is covered in our Complaints and Disputes pages.

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What is the Disputes Tribunal?

The Disputes Tribunal provides a way to resolve disputes that is quicker, less expensive and less formal than the District or High Court. Hearings are private; there are no lawyers or judges, and members of the public and the media are not allowed into the hearing room. A trained referee hears your dispute, and can make a binding order that can be enforced by the courts. The Tribunal can deal with claims of up to $15,000 (or $20,000 if both sides agree).

To find your nearest Disputes Tribunal visit the Ministry of Justice website.

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What types of claims can the Tribunal hear and what won’t they hear?

The Tribunal can hear most claims where there is a dispute. It is important to know that it can’t deal with cases where someone knows they should do something but simply refuses to (for example, to chase a debt that someone agrees they owe you).

Some of the types of disputes heard by the Tribunal are over:

  • disagreements with your neighbours e.g. over the boundary fence
  • whether work has been done properly
  • whether the goods you paid for were the goods you got 
  • whether the amount charged for goods or for work done is justified
  • loss of property e.g. if it goes missing while it’s in for repairs
  • whether you owe money to someone

You can’t use the Tribunal to settle disputes about:

  • rates, taxes, social welfare benefits or ACC payments
  • parenting or care of children
  • matrimonial property
  • wills
  • ownership of land
  • the value of goodwill with a business that is bought or sold
  • trade secrets or other intellectual property such as copyright

The Ministry of Justice website has more information about when the Disputes Tribunal can and can’t help.

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What decisions can the Tribunal make?

If the parties to a dispute before the Tribunal cannot reach an agreement on how to settle their dispute, then the referee will make a decision instead. The referee can make decisions (called orders) that:

  • someone must pay someone else a certain amount of money
  • someone does not have to pay someone else money
  • work must be done 
  • an agreement must be changed or cancelled
  • someone must hand over some goods to someone else 
  • the claim be dismissed

More about what decisions the Tribunal can make is on the Community Law website.

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How do I make a claim?

You'll need to fill out an application form and pay the appropriate fee (see the next question). You can get a claim form at your nearest District Court (the staff can help you fill it out if necessary), download a copy from the Ministry of Justice website, or apply online.

Information which you’ll need to provide in your application includes:

  • The name and address of the person or organisation you are claiming against.
  • The name and address of any other person or organisations involved.
  • The name and address of your insurer, if you have insurance in relation to the loss or damage you are claiming about
  • A description of the dispute, including what you’ve already done to try to resolve it

Make sure that when you lodge your claim you include all the relevant issues that you want resolved.

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Is there a fee to pay?

Yes, but as lawyers can’t attend the hearing you won’t have to pay a lawyer’s bill - unless you choose to get legal advice before the hearing.

You need to pay around:

  • $45 if the total amount of the claim is less than $2000
  • $90 if the total amount of the claim is $2000 or more but less than $5000
  • $180 if the total amount of the claim is $5,000 or more 

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What do I need to do to prepare for a Disputes Tribunal hearing?

At the hearing both parties will be able to tell their own sides of the dispute. It will help you if you can make notes about what you want to say, collect any supporting evidence (e.g. letters, receipts, copies of written agreements), and ask any witnesses to come with you to the hearing. It’s often a good idea to start with a timeline of events relating to the claim as a guide to your preparation.

It’s very important to include evidence to support any monetary claims you are making, e.g. quotes, invoices, receipts or bank statements.  This is also important if you are disputing the amount claimed against you by the other party.

If you aim to have the other party to be ordered to pay money to your bank account, bring your bank account details as well.

Arrange for any witnesses who can support your claim or defence to be involved in the hearing, it is possible for a witness to give evidence over the phone if necessary.

It’s worth knowing that if English is not your first language, you can ask the Tribunal to arrange for an interpreter.

More information about how to prepare for a hearing is on the Ministry of Justice website.

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How can I make a claim with the Disputes Tribunal if there is no courthouse near where I live?

You can make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal even if you live a long way from the nearest courthouse. For example, if it's inconvenient to apply to the Tribunal in person, you can do so by mail or online .

If the nearest courthouse is 100 km or more from where you live, you can apply to attend the hearing by teleconference. This option is available whether you are making a claim or someone else is making a claim against you.

Information about applying for a teleconference is included with the details of the hearing which is sent to both parties.

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I live overseas. Can I use the Disputes Tribunal to resolve a dispute I have with someone in New Zealand?

In order for the Disputes Tribunal to deal with your claim, generally you would need to be either living in New Zealand or be represented by some who does. Your representative, who cannot be a lawyer, can apply and attend the hearing on your behalf.

If you can’t find a suitable representative, you can apply to the Disputes Tribunal online and ask to attend the hearing by teleconference at your own expense. 

Note that it’s not possible for someone in New Zealand to make a claim in the Disputes Tribunal against someone overseas. This means that if the other party wanted to make a counter-claim against you (see Someone has filed a claim against me in the Disputes Tribunal. What should I do?), they would have to file a claim in the District Court and ask for your claim to be transferred so that the two can be heard together. 
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What happens during a hearing?

The hearing will begin with the referee outlining the procedure and rules for the hearing.  Both sides will then present their evidence during which the referee will ask questions about the evidence being presented. 

During this time any witnesses will be called to give evidence (they will not be allowed into the room until it is time to give their evidence). After a witness has presented his or her evidence, the other party will have the opportunity to ask the witness questions.

Once all the evidence has been heard the referee will then explain the relevant law and issues that need to be determined to resolve the dispute. Once the issues have been outlined the referee will often ask if the sides are willing to settle the dispute on their own terms. If an agreement is not reached, the referee will make a decision. Sometimes they will make their decision on the spot, but more often they will reserve their decision and notify you in writing as soon as possible afterwards.

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Someone has filed a claim against me in the Disputes Tribunal. What should I do?

If someone files a claim against you, you will receive a letter telling you what the claim is about and the date of the hearing.

Your options are:

  • Contact the person who has filed the claim and try to resolve the dispute without going to the Disputes Tribunal
  • Go the hearing to defend your claim
  • File a counter-claim against the other person, if you have a claim against them. If you want to do this you’ll need to do so at least 10 days before the hearing. The process for filing a counter claim is the same as for filing a claim. Both the claim and the counter-claim will be heard at the same time.

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What can I do if I believe the hearing was conducted unfairly?

You can file an appeal against the Tribunal order if you feel the referee conducted your hearing in an unfair or unjust way. You can’t appeal a decision just because you didn’t like the decision made.

If you want to file an appeal you’ll need to do so within 28 days of the Tribunal making an order. A judge in the District Court decides whether or not there are grounds for an appeal.

More about re-hearings and appeals is on the Ministry of Justice website.

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What happens if the order is not complied with?

You can apply to the District Court to have it enforced. Contact the Collections Unit at your local District Court (or the Civil Enforcement staff if it is a small District Court). You can read more about enforcing a Disputes Tribunal decision on the Ministry of Justice website.