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About the Disputes Tribunal

Printable version: Disputes Tribunal – General Information (PDF, 490KB)

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What is the Disputes Tribunal?

People end up in disputes over a range of matters but the cost of lawyers and court fees can mean that it’s not worth taking some disputes to court. The Disputes Tribunal provides a quick and inexpensive forum that can be used to resolve a wide range of disputes.

Disputes Tribunals are not like the formal courts. A lawyer cannot represent you and there are no judges. A Referee who has been carefully selected and trained hears the dispute. Any ruling they make is binding and can, if necessary, be enforced by the courts.

The Disputes Tribunal is governed by the Disputes Tribunals Act 1988 and the Disputes Tribunal Rules 1989.

The focus of the Tribunal is to consider the evidence and apply the relevant law to determine what is fair and just in the circumstances.

What is a claim?

A claim in the Disputes Tribunal is when an applicant makes demand for money, property, or for enforcement of a right provided by law against the respondent because they disagree about the circumstances surrounding their claim.

Who hears the dispute?

Disputes Tribunal cases are heard by a trained Referee. Referees are appointed because of their personal qualities, knowledge and experience and are usually legally qualified.

The Referee will encourage the two sides of the dispute to see if they can reach an agreement. If they cannot agree, the referee will make a binding decision, which can be enforced by the Court. 

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What we can help with

The Tribunal can deal with a wide variety of disputes. Some examples of disputes that can be taken to the Disputes Tribunal are:

Neighbourhood disputes
  • Fencing issues
  • Tree roots causing damage to drains
  • Damage to property
Consumer disputes
  • Whether work has been done properly
  • The amount of money charged for work that has been done
  • Defective goods
  • Loss caused by misleading advertising
  • Disputed debts
Other disputes 
  • Damage to a car in an collision
  • Contract disputes
  • Disputes about business agreements
  • Disputes between flatmates

 You can take a dispute to the Disputes Tribunal even if you have signed an agreement saying that you will not use the Disputes Tribunal.  

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What we can't help with

The Disputes Tribunal does not have jurisdiction to deal with debts that are not disputed. Simply refusing to pay an overdue bill is not a dispute (as there is no argument that the person owes you money). The respondent must have actively disputed that they are liable for the debt.

In other words, the Disputes Tribunal cannot be used as a debt collection agency.

We also cannot deal with:

  • Disputes between landlords and tenants
  • Disputes about rates, taxes, social welfare benefits or ACC payments
  • Disputes about intellectual property
  • Employment disputes
  • Disputes about wills or land
  • Family law issues such as relationship property and care of children

 Many areas have their own dispute resolution processes, for example the Tenancy Tribunal, the Weathertight Homes Tribunal and the Employment Relations Authority

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