Civil disputes

ACAT can consider and resolve a range of civil disputes between persons, businesses or organisations. Disputes may be about contracts, damages, debt, goods, nuisance, trespass or other matters (where ACAT has jurisdiction).

ACAT can hear civil claims up to $25,000. In some circumstances, a higher claim may be heard.

You are responsible for preparing and presenting your case (whether you’re the applicant, respondent or third party).

ACAT staff can give you procedural information, but not legal advice.

Before you apply

Try to resolve the dispute through negotiation or mediation before coming to ACAT. Working on a resolution together outside of ACAT is often quicker, cheaper and less stressful than proceedings at ACAT.

Types of civil disputes

ACAT can consider and resolve a range of civil disputes about:

  • a debt – to recover a debt and/or interest owing on a debt
  • damages – to recover damages caused by negligence or other tort
  • goods – dealing with the provision of goods or services (for the value of goods or services, the recovery of goods, the provision of services, or for damages caused by the detention of goods)
  • contracts – including damages for breach of contract
  • a nuisance – to deal with interference with use or enjoyment of land (such as an overflow from a neighbour’s burst sewerage pipe on your land), including to deal with the interference, monetary damages and/or an order to stop the interference
  • a trespass – to deal with unauthorised entry onto property including to seek monetary damages and/or an order to stop the trespass (for example, an order requiring a squatter to leave your land)
  • a debt declaration – to declare the amount, or the maximum amount, that you owe to someone, or to declare that you are not indebted to another person at all (attach a copy of the letter of demand that has been sent to you)
  • authorising laws – such as the Australian Consumer Law.

When you fill in a civil dispute application form [PDF 154KB], you need to tell us what type of civil dispute you have (it may be more than one type).

Amount of the claim

ACAT has jurisdiction for civil disputes when the amount claimed is $25,000 or less. If the amount in dispute is over $25,000, you can:

  • Consider ‘abandoning the excess’, so that you remain within ACAT’s jurisdiction. For example, if you are seeking $30,000, you may decide to abandon $5,000 and limit the amount you claim in your ACAT application to $25,000 or
  • Ask the other party or parties in the case to agree to ACAT hearing a claim above $25,000. For example, you can claim $30,000 in an ACAT application if the other party or parties in the case agree in writing and understand that you are not abandoning the excess.

If your claim is for more than $25,000, find out more about the civil jurisdiction of the ACT Magistrates Court.

Connection to the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

ACAT can usually hear and decide civil disputes when:

  • the respondent is an ACT resident when the civil dispute application was served on them, even if everything happened outside the ACT or
  • a material part of the claim happened in the ACT and the application was served outside the ACT.

You may need to get legal advice about whether ACAT has jurisdiction to hear your case.

Timeframe

You should check whether there is a timeframe for lodging an application. For example, there are provisions in the Limitation Act 1985 that may apply.

Representation and advice

Decide if you will have a representative, noting correspondence in the case will be sent to that person, unless you advise us otherwise.

How to apply

Collect information

Collect the information you will need:

  • The details of what the dispute is about – you’ll need to tell us the date the dispute arose, and provide a brief description of what happened, what you are asking for and why.
  • Who is involved in the dispute – you’ll need to correctly identify the parties. Review our information about how to identify and name a party (this includes more detailed information about what you need to provide if the respondent is a company).
  • Contact details for all the parties – it is important to get emails, postal addresses and phone numbers correct.
  • Whether you will claim interest – if you decide to claim interest, tell us how you want it calculated. You can use our interest calculator or fill in the statement of interest claimed – civil dispute form [PDF 130KB]. If you are claiming contractual interest, you must provide a copy of the contract and complete the interest calculation.

Making the application

To make an application you need to:

  • fill in the civil dispute application form [PDF 154KB]
  • attach any documents, such as a letter of demand
  • make copies of the application – one copy for each party in the case and a copy for ACAT
  • tell us the times and dates you are not available to attend ACAT, for example, if you are overseas or having a medical procedure
  • lodge the form (you need a copy for ACAT and each party), ensuring all details are completed in full
  • pay the fee, unless you have an exemption, waiver or deferral
  • review our information about lodging or serving documents.

Applying for a company

If you are making an application on behalf of a company, you’ll also need to lodge an authority to act for a corporation form [PDF 57KB]. Attach to this form a company extract – see ASIC registers.

However, if the company is represented by a lawyer, you may decide to lodge a notice of new contact or representation details form [PDF 67KB].

Review our information about:

Urgent applications

If your application is urgent, you need to lodge an application for interim or other orders form [PDF 56KB] at the same time you lodge your civil dispute application form [PDF 154KB].

Tell us why your application is urgent (for example, you need an urgent order to preserve the subject matter of the proceedings, or there is a risk to the safety of people or assets). You should also clearly set out the orders that you are seeking.

Fees

There is a fee to lodge a civil dispute application, unless you have an exemption, waiver or deferral.

There are other fees that you may need to pay in your case, such as:

  • a hearing fee (if the case is scheduled for more than one day)
  • a fee for any subpoenas that you ask ACAT to issue.

What happens after an application is made?

After you lodge a civil dispute application, ACAT will serve it on the respondent (or respondents) by pre-paid post. If you want to serve the application (rather than ACAT serving it), you need to let us know at the time you lodge the application.

Even after an application has been lodged, it is a good idea to continue talking to the other party or parties in a dispute. If you reach an agreement, notify ACAT in writing.

Find out your options about resolving your case outside ACAT.

Responding to a civil dispute application

As a respondent in the case, you need to:

  • fill out a response form [PDF 164KB]
  • lodge it by the date noted on your correspondence from ACAT (this is usually 21 days).

ACAT will give a copy of your response to the applicant.

If you do not respond to a civil dispute application within the time frame, a default judgment may be entered against you.

When you are responding to an application, tell us if:

  • you agree with the claim against you (for instance, if you admit liability)
  • you admit liability but want to pay the amount in instalments (make sure you tell us the instalment amount and frequency, as well as when the first instalment will be made)
  • you dispute the claim against you
  • you only agree with part of the claim that has been made against you, and you dispute the rest
  • you want to make a counterclaim against the applicant.

You may decide to directly contact the applicant to negotiate an agreement or arrange for payment, but unless an agreement is reached, you will need to respond within the required time. If you do not respond, a default judgment may be entered against you.

If you want to add a party to the dispute, see our information about third parties below.

Counterclaims

A counterclaim is a claim made by a respondent to a proceeding against the applicant. You should set out the details of a counterclaim in the response form [PDF 164KB]. Fees apply, unless you have an exemption, deferral or waiver.

Admission of liability

A respondent 'admits liability' when they agree that they are liable (responsible) for the amount claimed by the applicant. Liability can be admitted in whole or part.

If, in response to a civil dispute application, a respondent admits liability in full and agrees to a judgment being entered against them, ACAT may enter judgment in chambers (without a hearing) and provide a copy to the parties.

ACAT may ask an applicant if they accept the respondent’s admission of liability.  The applicant can fill in the acceptance of admission of liability – civil dispute form [PDF 74KB] and return it to ACAT.

Default judgment

If the respondent does not respond to a civil dispute application and has not paid the amount claimed, the applicant may fill in and lodge an application for default judgment – civil dispute form [PDF 82KB].

When you fill in the application for default judgment, you will need to give us details of the amount you are claiming, including any filing fees, search or hearing fees, and the details of any money that has been paid to you by the respondent since you lodged your civil dispute application.

If you are claiming contractual interest (or expenses), you must attach a copy of the contract or agreement which sets out how the expenses or interest are calculated and an updated statement of interest claimed – civil dispute form [PDF 130KB].

In most cases, if you are asking for a judgment in a specified sum, ACAT will grant default judgment in chambers (without a hearing). In some cases:

  • you may be contacted by ACAT for more information
  • you may be required to attend ACAT for an assessment hearing.

Assessment hearing

If your case is scheduled for an assessment hearing, you will need to:

  • bring all the information you have about your claim (if you are the applicant), including invoices, receipts or other information that supports your claim
  • if you are the respondent and would like to have input into the assessment, bring all your relevant documents and information that supports what you are asking ACAT to do
  • explain to ACAT what order you want ACAT to make and why.

If you do not attend an assessment hearing, orders may be made in your absence.

Third parties

In some circumstances, a respondent may seek to add a third party (for example, the respondent wants to claim a contribution or indemnity against a person who is not already a party to the application).

A respondent who wants to add a third party should lodge a civil dispute third party notice [PDF 135KB].

You have 21 days after your response is due to lodge this form. If you are outside the 21 days, you can ask the applicant whether or not they agree to an extension of the timeframe. You can lodge a third party notice at the same time as you lodge your response.

ACAT will send a copy of the third party notice to the third party. The third party will then have 21 days to provide a response, using the response to third party notice – civil dispute form [PDF 158KB]. The third party will need to indicate whether or not they admit or dispute liability. A third party can also indicate on this form whether a counterclaim is sought (there is a fee if a counterclaim is made).

Interest calculator

To calculate interest, you can use our interest calculator.

Resolving disputed cases

If a respondent tells ACAT (in their response) that the civil dispute application is disputed, ACAT will schedule the case for a:

ACAT will send you a notice that gives you details. If an agreement is not reached at a conference, the case will progress to a hearing. All parties will be required to prepare their case for a hearing and to comply with any ACAT directions that are made.

When preparing for a hearing you need to:

Usually ACAT directions will require you to provide a copy of your supporting documents to ACAT and all parties in the case.

If your case is a building dispute (where defects are claimed), parties may be required to fill in and lodge a scott schedule [DOC 245KB].

If your case goes to a hearing, ACAT will make a decision. ACAT decisions can be enforced at the courts.

Appeals

If you think that ACAT made an error when it decided the application, you may appeal within 28 days of the decision.

More information

Find out  about:

Glossary and terms

Glossary and terms

ACT Civil and Administrative TribunalA tribunal established under the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. It may also be referred to as ACAT or Tribunal.

Adjourn (or adjournment)To suspend or postpone a preliminary conference, mediation or hearing and reschedule it for a future date.

Administrative reviewACAT has jurisdiction to review some administrative decisions made by the ACT Government. Find out about Review of ACT Government decisions.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)Also known as dispute resolution. This is a way of resolving disputes without a formal hearing. It may involve a preliminary conference or mediation. ADR is used to help parties resolve cases by agreement.

AnorMeans ‘and another’. This term is generally used to name parties to proceedings when there is more than one applicant or respondent.

Appeal TribunalA tribunal constituted under section 81 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal 2008 to review a decision of the tribunal (not all ACAT decisions are appealable at ACAT – you may need to go to the Supreme Court).

AppellantThe individual or company that appeals an ACAT decision.

Authorising lawsA law that says an application (including referrals) may be made to ACAT. An authorising law may also set out the powers ACAT has in a case. Also see ‘jurisdiction’.

ApplicantThe individual or company that brings a case to ACAT, usually by making an application.

Calling a witnessA party or their representative will ‘call a witness’ at an ACAT hearing when they ask a witness to give evidence.

CaseAlso known as a matter, dispute, application or referral. Cases come to ACAT when ACAT has jurisdiction (power) to make a decision.

Cross-examinationThe process of asking a witness questions to test or check the evidence that the witness has given to ACAT.

Deliver a decisionAlso ‘handing down a decision’. This is giving a decision about an ACAT case. It may be done verbally or in writing (or both).

DirectionsInstructions that set out what each party must do (and when), often to prepare a case for hearing.

Directions hearingA short hearing where an ACAT Member or Registrar decides how to manage a case and what needs to be done before a hearing. Find out about directions hearings.

Ex parte orderAn order made by ACAT where one or more parties were not present.

Expert reportA written report from an expert that may be used as evidence.

Expert witnessA person with specialised knowledge based on their training, study or experience. An expert can give evidence at a hearing. Find out more about witness statements.

Final directions hearingSometimes ACAT will hold a final directions hearing prior to the final hearing of an application. The purpose is to make sure the case is ready to go to a hearing and give the parties a chance to ask questions about the hearing process.

Handed upGiving documents to an ACAT Member or Registrar in a hearing.

In chambersWhen ACAT considers something without holding a hearing.

Joined party (joined/joinder)A party who was not originally a party to the dispute but has later been added to the case.

JurisdictionACAT’s authority (power) to deal with, hear and decide applications (cases).

LeaveIf someone asks for leave, they are usually asking for permission to do something.

List (or listing)A schedule (or list) of cases to be heard at ACAT each day.

Listing noticeA letter or written document from ACAT that sets out when a conference, mediation or hearing is scheduled at ACAT.

MediationA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute, with the help of an impartial mediator (who is also an ACAT Member or Registrar). It is held under section 35 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008.

Non-publication and/or non-disclosure orderAlso called a ‘suppression order’. It is an order that requires certain information not to be published or disclosed. It is made under section 39 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. Find out about public hearings and confidentiality.

Notice to partiesA letter sent to the parties in a case that sets out the time, date and location for an ACAT conference, mediation or hearing.

Opening statementUsually means a statement made at the beginning of a hearing to outline the key points in the case. Sometimes parties are asked to give an opening statement at a mediation or preliminary conference.

Originating applicationAn application that starts an ACAT case.

Party or partiesAn individual or company directly involved in an ACAT case, for example an applicant or respondent. Find out how to identify and name parties.

Preliminary conferenceA private meeting where parties discuss ways to resolve their dispute with the help of an ACAT Member or Registrar. See section 33 of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008. ACAT has different types of preliminary conferences.

RegistryThe administrative section of ACAT that accepts documents lodged by parties, handles enquiries and provides support for case management.

RepresentativeA person who represents or advocates for an individual or company at a conference, mediation or hearing at ACAT. For example, a legal practitioner or an attorney appointed under a general power of attorney.

Reserved decisionWhen an ACAT Member or Registrar reserves a decision (at the end of a hearing), this means they will give their decision later, either verbally or in writing (sometimes both).

RespondentThe party (or parties) against whom orders or relief is sought.

Short service orderAn order that authorises a shorter time for service (than the time otherwise required).

Serve/serviceA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.

Statement of reasonsA document that explains why ACAT made an order in a case. It sets out the law relied on by an ACAT Member or Registrar and explains how the law was applied to the facts of the case. You can request a written statement of reasons within 14 days after an order is made. Find out about statement of reasons.

StayAn order for a particular action (or decision) to be put on hold or suspended for a period of time.

SubmissionA document that sets out your side of a case or dispute and the relevant law. It is presented to ACAT either in writing, verbally or both. Find out about submissions.

SubpoenaRequires a person to appear at ACAT to give evidence or provide documents (or both). Find out about subpoenas.

Substituted service orderAn order that says how a party is to be served with an application or other documents related to the proceedings. In a civil dispute or a rental dispute, an applicant will need to consider asking for a substituted service order if they do not have a physical address for the respondent. Find out about lodging and serving documents.

WitnessA person who can give evidence at a hearing. Find out about witness statements.