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Preparing for the Disputes Tribunal - What You Need to Know

20 March 2022
by Canterbury Legal

The Disputes Tribunal is an important and useful tool used to determine disputes at a lower cost, is less formal than the Courts and provides a faster method to resolve litigation matters.

Who can make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal?

Anyone can file a claim, however, there must be a genuine dispute before the matter can be heard. It is important that you collect evidence that proves there is a dispute and that the other party is aware of the issue.

A party to a claim can seek a declaration that they are not liable for a claim based on contract or quasi contract. This is valuable if you are facing a demand from a debt collecting agency. However, there is the risk that if your application is denied, the Tribunal will order you to pay the debt.

Claims can be made even where contracts provide otherwise.

Amount of claim

The Disputes Tribunal currently has jurisdiction to hear disputes related to claims of up to $30,000.00. If your claim is above this, it can be reduced to bring it within the Jurisdiction of the Tribunal otherwise it must be filed with the District Court or High Court depending on the cost and complexity of the issue.

Interest on claims may also be awarded; this is in addition to the $30,000.00.

Types of Claims

The tribunal can deal with:

  • A claim “founded on contract” also known as quasi-contract. For example, overpayment of wages when Employment Contract at an end;
  • Claims in tort in respect of: the destruction or loss of any property, any damage or injury to any property and the recovery of any property;
  • Car accidents or other vehicle issues such as damage to a car or bike in an accident and damage to a vehicle when someone borrowed it;
  • Consequential loss such as the cost of a rental vehicle in a car accident claim;
    House or flat disputes such as fences, tree roots damaging drains, damage to property, property that’s been borrowed and not returned and flatmates not doing what they agreed to;
  • Buying goods or services such as goods that don’t work properly, the quality of work by a tradesman, the amount of money charged for work done, loss caused by misleading advertising and disputed debts;
  • Business deals such as contracts and business agreements;
    Statutory claims; and
  • Interest claims where a contract provides for it.
  • The Tribunal cannot determine disputes relating to:
  • Renting (disputes between landlords and tenants) or body corporate issues;
  • Rates, taxes, social welfare benefits or ACC payments;
  • Trade secrets and intellectual property (copyright and who owns an idea or creative work);
  • Wills and Estates;
  • Employment;
  • Land;
  • Family law issues such as relationship property and care of children;
  • Goodwill; and
  • Debts when the person owing the money agrees they owe the debt but doesn’t pay anyway. In other words, you can’t use the Tribunal as a debt collection agency.

How we can assist you in the process

Canterbury Legal can provide you with an assessment of your claim and advise you whether pursuing it in the disputes tribunal is a sensible option. We can also assist you in setting out your claim and ensure you are fully prepared for a hearing. In doing so we would consider the:

  • The strength of your evidence and what could further strengthen your claim for example, including witnesses that should be called;
  • Submissions to ensure that your story is told in the best light;
  • Key issues and evidence to ensure that they are all clearly identified;
  • Identification and summary of the relevant law to be explained in your terms; and
  • Outcome to ensure that you have an idea of the relief you are seeking or a defence that you can rely on if the claim is made against you.

Filing a Claim

This should be carried out by you after consideration of the above. Claims can be filed:


Filing Fees are payable to the Tribunal at the time of filing and the fee amount depends on the claim amount in dispute, as below:

  • For claims less than $2,000.00 - $45.00 filing fee;
  • For claims between $2,000.00 to $4999.00 - $90.00 filing fee; and
  • For claims of $5,000.00 or more - $180.00 filing fee.

Insured Property

Where an applicant and/or respondent is insured for the property that is damaged the insurer must be notified of the proceedings. The insurer will become a party to the proceedings but may waive its right to appear. The insurer may bring a claim where it has paid out to its client or abandon its rights in which case the claim will focus on the insureds unpaid losses which may include an excess payable and loss of no claims bonus.

Support Person

You are allowed to bring a support person but they may not address the Referee unless invited. They cannot be a lawyer or someone who undertakes advocacy work. Former or retired lawyers are excluded.

If you require an interpreter, you will need to advise the Tribunal well in advance as the interpreter will be appointed by the Tribunal.


You need to be organised to eliminate stress and arrive in plenty of time in advance the hearing. This includes knowing where the tribunal is situated and what parking options are available. There may be tele conferencing or video conferencing involved and you need to be prepared for this. The hearing will almost certainly be recorded so it is important what you say and how you present. Consideration should be given as to what clothing you wear.

Also consideration needs to be had as to what paperwork you are producing. These need to be in multiple copies for producing to the Referee and other parties. If the documentation is extensive it should be collated and paginated for easy reference.

If you are intending to produce electronic documents and photos, videos or sound recordings you need to bring your own laptop or device.

Hearing Process

Often the process will be as follows:

  • The Referee makes an introduction and requests the parties to introduce themselves explaining how the hearing will proceed;
  • An opening statement is made first by the applicant and then by the other parties;
  • The referee will then seek to identify both the issues and the legal position;
  • Following that the Referee will inquire in to each issue and review the evidence. They will also explain the applicable law as they see it;
  • Witnesses will then give their evidence usually one by one with the others waiting outside. All parties including the Referee can question witnesses;
  • The Referee will usually try to facilitate a settlement. This may involve short adjournments where the parties can consider their positions.

Orders and Awards

The Referees have a wide range of powers and can order:

  • Monetary payment from one party to any other party;
  • A declaration that a person is not liable to another in respect of a claim or demand;
  • A party to deliver specific property to another party;
  • A work order requiring certain work to be undertaken in conjunction with a money order which enables the claimant to choose either where the work order is not complied with;
  • Variation or setting aside of any agreement between the parties;
  • That the claim be dismissed;
  • Payment of interest;
  • Costs in limited circumstances.


Orders of the Tribunal are enforceable in the same way as an order of the District Court. Settlement Agreements are treated as an order of the Tribunal and are similarly enforceable.

Rehearing and Appeals

An application for rehearing should be lodged within 28 days of the making of the order or award. Grounds for rehearing include:

  • A party not receiving notice of the hearing date;
  • A party or a witness missing the hearing for a valid reason;
  • The Referee making an error in the order for payment of money;
  • New information that affects a settlement agreement approved by the Referee.

There is a right of Appeal to the District Court where the proceedings were conducted in an unfair manner which prejudicially affected the outcome. The application must be made within 28 days of the order or award and is filed by post with a filing fee of $200.00 payable.


If you require assistance with all or any of the above, we're here to help. Just get in touch with our office.

For more information on the Disputes Tribunal, visit their website at

Protecting what matters to you is important to us. Please reach out to us if we can assist with your legal needs.

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Postal Address
P.O. Box 22115, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand

Phone: +64 3 377 0792
Fax: +64 3 377 0795

Canterbury Legal Building
Level 2, Durham Street South
Christchurch Central 8011
Phone: +64 3 377 0792
Fax: +64 3 377 0795
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