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Disputes Tribunal - General information

If you have a dispute with someone and you can’t settle the dispute yourself, your nearest Disputes Tribunal may be the answer.

Settling disputes simply

Te Reo Maori

Kei a koe te tikanga ki te Kōrero Māori ki mua i te aroaro o Te Taraipiunara mō ngā Tautohe (Disputes Tribunal). Ki te hiahia koe ki te pēnei, me matua whakaatu atu ki te Tari o te Taraipiunara mō ngā Tautohe o te rohe kei reira te whakawā i MUA noa atu o te wā whakawā. Mā rātou e whakarite mai he tangata ki te whakapākehā i o Kōrero Māori. Kaua hoki e wareware, ka Kōrero Pākeha pea ētahi atu o ngā tāngata o te Taraipiunara. Ka taea e koe te tiki ētahi atu Kōrero whakamōhio e pa ana ki te Kōrero Māori ki roto i Te Taraipiunara mō ngā Tautohe, i te Kōti-ā-Rohe tata atu ki a koe. Ke kitea te kāinga noho me te nama waea i roto i te Pukapuka Nama Waea i raro i te ingoa, Justice Ministry of.

If you have a dispute with someone and you can’t settle the dispute yourself, your nearest Disputes Tribunal may be the answer.


Got a dispute? maybe we can help

Disputes Tribunals are:

  • informal
  • inexpensive
  • quick
  • private

Disputes Tribunals are not like formal courts. There are no lawyers or judges.

Disputes are heard by a referee who has been carefully selected and trained. A referee is someone who will either help you to come to your own solution or will determine your dispute. Any ruling they make is binding and will, if necessary, be enforced by the Courts.

When can the Tribunal help?

The Tribunal can deal with many disputes. You can take a dispute to the Tribunal even if you have agreed in writing not to, or a contract says "no responsibility accepted".

The dispute could be about:

  • whether work has been done properly
  • whether goods purchased were what you asked for
  • the amount charged for work done

- damage to property: for example, a car is damaged in a collision or a lawnmower lent to a neighbour is returned damaged

  • loss of property: for example, someone borrows a bike and doesn’t return it
  • payment for a loss caused by misleading advertising or misleading statements made by someone selling goods or services: for example, an advertisement which suggests speakers are included in a sound system, when in fact they are an extra cost
  • whether a boundary fence needs replacing or how costs will be shared
  • hire purchase agreements
  • denying that you owe money for an account sent to you.

The Tribunal cannot award you more than $15,000 (or up to $20,000 with the agreement of the other party). These limits do not prevent you from discussing your total losses, even if they exceed the upper limits.

The Tribunal cannot be used for:

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

How to bring your dispute to the Tribunal

Contact the Disputes Tribunal at your nearest District Court. The staff there will help you. You will be given a form called a "Claim Form". Turn to page 4 of this leaflet to see what this form looks like and how to fill it in.

You will have to pay a fee. However, as no lawyers are involved you will not be faced with a lawyer’s bill unless, of course, you choose to seek legal advice before the hearing. Lawyers are not entitled to attend a hearing with you or appear on your behalf.

If a claim is lodged against you

You will be sent a notice informing you of the claim. You will also be told when the Tribunal will hear the claim. You can then do any of the following:

  • You can contact the person making the claim and try to settle the matter without going to the Tribunal.
  • You may attend the hearing and defend the claim.
  • If you consider you have a claim against the other party, you can file a claim in the Tribunal. The Disputes Tribunal staff will tell you how to do this. It should be done as soon as possible. Both claims will be heard at the same time.
  • You may apply to the Court to have your claim heard by telephone conference, normally if you live more than 100km from where the claim is being heard.


Disputes in the Tribunal often involve insurance. Your insurance company is entitled to take part in the Tribunal hearing if it has paid you for the loss or damage, or if it might have to pay. If you intend to take a dispute to the Tribunal and insurance is involved, contact your insurer immediately. Tell them about the dispute.

If a claim is lodged against you and you think you can claim insurance, you should also contact your insurance company immediately.

How to fill in a Claim Form

1 Write your name and address here. Please give the phone number where you can be reached during the day.

2 Write the name, street address and phone number (if available) of the person with whom you are having the dispute. A box number is not enough but should also be included if you know it. Please give a full description of the person or organisation from whom you are claiming: for example "Star Bicycles Ltd.". If the business name does not include "Ltd." or "Inc.", you should give the name of the owner of the business as well.

3 If there is another person or organisation that is involved with your claim, write their details here as above.

4 If you are insured in relation to this loss or damage, write the name and address of your insurance company here. (The Court will notify your insurance company of this claim. If you do not want to make an insurance claim, you can ask your insurance company to sign a waiver form which is available from the Court.)

5 Write down the general details of your dispute, for example:

  • what happened?
  • where did it happen?
  • who was involved?
  • what was the damage, or what was your loss?

6 Describe what you have done to try to resolve the dispute.

Please remember the Tribunal does not collect bad debts. You should provide the other party’s reasons for not paying to show that the claim is disputed.

7 Sign your name and give the date.

Disputes tribunal claim form

SECTION 2 - How Disputes Tribunals work

How to prepare for the hearing

Preparation for the hearing is important. To help you prepare for the hearing, it is recommended that you view the video "Settling Disputes Simply" - you can call in to the Disputes Tribunal office at your nearest District Court and view or borrow this video free of charge.

At the hearing each person involved will tell his/her side of the dispute.

It is a good idea to:

  • write down what you want to say before you come.
  • bring to the hearing any letters, forms, invoices, sales slips, receipts, copies of contracts, photographs, quotes for repairs or anything else which will help to establish the facts about the dispute.
  • bring any witnesses who can support your claim: for example, a neighbour who saw what happened.

Do I need to be there?


If you are the person making the claim, your claim will be dismissed unless you attend.

If a claim has been made against you the Tribunal can make an order, even if you are not present. If for some reason it is impossible for you to attend, contact the Disputes Tribunal staff immediately. You may be able to have the hearing postponed.

Can I bring a support person?

Yes, in some circumstances the Tribunal may allow you to bring a friend or support person. However, they must not say anything at the hearing unless asked to speak by the referee.

Can I have someone represent me at a hearing?

In most cases you are expected to make your claim, or defend a claim made against you, yourself. That is, you have to represent yourself. However, there are some special circumstances in which the Tribunal can allow a representative to put your case for you.

The Tribunal may allow someone to represent you if:

  • You have a special disability which makes presenting your case very difficult: for example, if your disability causes serious communication problems.
  • You are less than 18 years old.
  • You are a company or other organisation, and the representative is an officer, employee, or someone with a majority interest.
  • You are making the claim jointly with another person (or a number of others), or a claim has been made jointly against you and another person (or a number of others), and you want to be represented by one of these other people.
  • You can show the Tribunal that, for some other good reason, you are unable to present your case.

If you think you need a representative, please contact Tribunal staff immediately. The Tribunal has to agree and approve your representative before they represent you.

Please also remember, if you are allowed a representative, they cannot be a lawyer.

What if my first language is not English?

If you need an interpreter please contact the Tribunal staff immediately. They will arrange for an independent interpreter to be present. This is a free service.

What if a witness refuses to attend the hearing?

If someone you need to act as a witness for you refuses to do so, contact the Tribunal staff as soon as possible. They may issue a summons to the witness which requires him/her to attend the hearing.

What happens at the hearing?

Tribunal hearings are private and informal. Members of the public and the press are normally not allowed in the hearing room. The referee will normally ask the person making the claim to give his/her side of the story first. The other person will then be asked to say how they see the situation. You will need to show the referee any documents relating to the dispute.

The referee will hear from any witnesses who can provide evidence. The referee will ask questions of each party and of any witnesses. You will also be able to ask questions. The referee may feel that they need to know more details about the dispute than you or the other person have brought to the Tribunal. If so, they may adjourn the hearing and call for an independent report on the facts from a person called an Investigator. You will not have to pay for this service.

What can the Tribunal do?

The referee will encourage both parties to discuss the dispute and may suggest ways in which it might be settled. If an agreement is not reached, the referee will make a decision. Referees are required to give either oral or written reasons for their decision.

Both agreements and decisions are binding and can be enforced in the same way as an order of the District Court.

Examples of orders a referee can make are:

  • that one person pay a sum of money to another person
  • that one person is not liable to pay money to another person
  • that work be done, for example to repair faulty goods or correct poor workmanship
  • that an agreement be altered or cancelled
  • that certain goods be handed over to one of the parties or that money be paid for those goods
  • that the claim be dismissed.

Sometimes people find it difficult or impossible to pay or to pay immediately. It can often be helpful to discuss in the hearing how the terms of an agreement or an order will be worked out in practice. Doing this can remove difficulties later for everyone involved in the dispute.

Please note: the making of an order for the payment of money does not guarantee that payment will be made. You may find that you will need to take action to enforce the order if payment is not made.

SECTION 3 - After the Hearing

What happens after the hearing?


You may apply for a rehearing if you believe you have good grounds for it - you will need to provide reasons and evidence to support your application. This will be dealt with by the referee who heard the original case. An application for rehearing should be made to the Tribunal within 28 days of the Tribunal’s order.


If you feel the referee conducted your hearing in a way which was unfair and prejudiced your case, you can file an appeal against an order of the Tribunal. An appeal should be filed at the Disputes Tribunal in the District Court within 28 days of the Tribunal order being made. A judge in the District Court decides whether or not there are grounds for appeal.

What happens if the order is not complied with?

You may apply to have the order enforced. Contact the Collections Unit at your local District Court.

June 2007

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