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There are many ways you can resolve your business disputes. The most well-known is going to court. However, litigation is a time-consuming and expensive dispute resolution method. It may also cause further damage to your relationship with the other party, which could cause repetitional harm to your business. Alternatively, you may wish to go to the Disputes Tribunal. This article outlines:

  • what the Disputes Tribunal is;
  • how to place a claim with the Disputes Tribunal; 
  • the hearing process; and
  • what occurs after a hearing in the Disputes Tribunal.

What is the Disputes Tribunal?

The Disputes Tribunal is a forum in which individuals can voice and settle their grievances with one another through a hearing process. The hearing is run by a referee who, where possible, will assist the parties in reaching a settlement. The referee will usually be a legal professional. However, there are no judges or lawyers involved in the hearing process.

The Disputes Tribunal deals with smaller claims that are up to the value of $30,000. These claims may be in regard to:

  • vehicle issues, such as a car accident or damage to a bike;
  • house-related issues, which may involve damage to your property or a dispute surrounding fencing;
  • goods or services, for example, you may wish to take a supplier to the Disputes Tribunal if the good you purchased does not work properly; or
  • business issues.

However, there are certain issues that are not within the jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal. These include:

  • renting problems, such as a dispute between a landlord and their tenants, which should be taken to the Tenancy Tribunal;
  • rates or taxes;
  • employment issues; 
  • family law issues, such as the contents of a will or the care of children; or
  • land concerns. 

How to Place a Claim with the Disputes Tribunal

There are two ways to place a claim with the Disputes Tribunal. You can:

  • apply online; or
  • file a claim by paper.

Apply Online

Before you start an application online, you should ensure that you have all of the necessary information with you. You will not be able to pause the application process once you have started.

You will need to have the following ready before you start your application:

  • your personal details;
  • the personal details of the person you are complaining about, including their name, home and business address, phone number and (where possible) a PO box number, their email address and any details of the vehicle they own, which allows the Tribunal to contact them;
  • the details of any other person involved;
  • your insurance company’s details (if your insurance might cover your claim);
  • the details of the dispute, including a description of what happened, when and where it occurred, who was involved, the damage that occurred and what you want done to remedy this;
  • the amount you are claiming for, which must be less than $30,000;
  • what you have done to remedy the dispute; and
  • your credit card details, to pay for the Tribunal fees. 

Once you have this information ready, you can place an application on the Dispute Tribunal’s website. This application will then be sent to the Tribunal, who will confirm the application and schedule a date for your hearing.

File a Claim By Paper

If you do not wish to place an application online, you can apply via a hard-copy claim form. You will need to fill out a Disputes Tribunal form and either:

  • post it to the Ministry of Justice; or
  • deliver the claim to your local District Court.

Importantly, if you post the form, you will have to send through three copies of the document, as well as any other documentation that is relevant to your claim.

In regards to the payment of the Tribunal fees, you can do this by:

  • cheque in the post, which should be made out to the Ministry of Justice; or
  • EFTPOS or credit card, if you are going to your local District Court. 

The Hearing

After you have placed a successful application, the Tribunal will send out a notice to all of the concerned parties with a time, date and place for your hearing. 

Before the Hearing

Regardless of whether you are bringing or responding to a claim, there are few things that you should do before a Disputes Tribunal hearing.

You need to think over and write down the key points that you would like to say. In this process, you should:

  • gather any evidence that supports your claim, which may include photos, letters, texts or receipts;
  • ask any witnesses that support your claim to come and speak at the hearing; and
  • send through any documentation to the Tribunal. 

As a lawyer cannot represent you in the hearing, you should read over your claim to ensure you convey all of your main points to the referee. 

You should bring with you:

  • printed copies of all of your evidence;
  • a pen and paper, or device, to take notes; and
  • any documents or references that your lawyer has prepared for the hearing.

The Hearing

There will be an array of people that attend the hearing. You may expect to see:

  • the person against whom you are making a claim;
  • the referee;
  • your witnesses and the witnesses of the respondent; and
  • any support people that you or the respondent bring along, who are not allowed to participate in the hearing unless they are addressed by the referee.

The hearing will begin with the referee introducing all of the people present and explaining how the hearing will go. Following the introduction, you and the respondent will each explain your side of the dispute. Each party will call their witnesses to give evidence and answer questions directed from the: 

  • other side; and
  • referee.

After this discussion has occurred, the referee will assist the parties in settling the dispute. If the dispute is settled, the parties will enter into a binding agreement. However, if the parties cannot agree, the referee will:

  • make a decision that is given either at the hearing or at a later date, which will be binding on the parties; or
  • put the hearing off till another date, if more information is needed.

After the Hearing

If you reach an agreement, you and the respondent will both be bound by this outcome. Under this agreement, one of the parties may be obligated to do something, such as: 

  • providing a payment to the claimant; or 
  • conducting repairs. 

However, the Tribunal will not actively check to see whether the decision is being followed. That obligation is on you and the respondent. You may only enforce an order of the Disputes Tribunal until the deadline specified in your agreement or decision has passed. If that is the case you can:

  • apply to your local District Court to enforce the order;
  • hire a debt collection agency to collect the payment, if you are owed money; 
  • get a lawyer to act on your behalf; or
  • apply to the Disputes Tribunal to seek payment instead of the action, if the other party is obligated to do an act. 


If you believe that something prevented the referee from making a proper decision, you may apply to the Disputes Tribunal for a rehearing. This may be because:

  • you were not provided with a letter informing you of the date of the hearing;
  • relevant information to your claim was not available at the date of the hearing; or
  • the referee made an error in calculating the amount you were to pay to the other party.

This application for a rehearing must be made within 20 working days from the date that the referee made your decision.

The same referee that heard your claim will consider this application and decide whether it should be successful. In this process, you may need to attend a brief hearing to support your claim for a rehearing. If you are granted a rehearing, you will go through the same hearing process under a different referee.

Key Takeaways

Going to court is expensive and time-consuming. If you are currently in the midst of a dispute but want a more informal, quick and inexpensive method to resolution, you may wish to go to the Disputes Tribunal. The Disputes Tribunal is a forum in which you can voice and settle your grievances through a hearing process run by a referee. The outcome of this hearing is binding, but it will be up to you to ensure that the other parties involved comply with this decision. If you would like assistance navigating a dispute, contact LegalVision’s New Zealand disputes lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.


What does the Disputes Tribunal do?

The Disputes Tribunal, through a referee, aids in settling disputes between parties.

How do I enforce a Disputes Tribunal order?

To enforce a Disputes Tribunal order once the deadline in the order expires, you can apply to your local District Court to enforce the order or get a lawyer to act on your behalf. If you are owed money, you could hire a debt collection agency to collect the payment. Or, if the other party is obligated to do an act, you may apply to the Disputes Tribunal to seek payment instead of the action.

Are tribunals effective?

The outcome of a hearing in the Disputes Tribunal is binding on the parties involved, and thus effective. 

What is the limit on claims in the Disputes Tribunal?

You can only claim up to $30,000 in the Disputes Tribunals.

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