Wednesday, 7 September 2022

I have a small dispute with an individual, agency or business — how do I apply to ACAT?

This factsheet outlines some basic information about ACAT, including how to bring a case to the tribunal and what you need to do to prepare for an appearance.

What is ACAT?

The ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) is an independent body that hears and determines a wide range of disputes. If you have a dispute with an individual, agency or a business that is financially small, there’s a good chance that ACAT can help you solve it should all other efforts fail.

Tribunal proceedings are similar to court proceedings in that they can be lengthy and potentially costly. Before approaching ACAT, it is best to attempt to negotiate an agreement with the other party yourself, or with the assistance of a lawyer. This is particularly relevant for some types of disputes such as civil disputes or rental property disputes. If negotiation is unsuccessful, consider the following:

  • send a letter to the other party or parties to the dispute setting out what the dispute is about, what your position is, how you suggest the issue be resolved and provide a time frame for a response. You may indicate that if no response is received, it is your intention to lodge an application at ACAT. In certain cases, this could also be a letter of demand
  • Attempt mediation with a mediation service such as the Conflict Resolution Service
  • Seek legal advice.

If all other efforts fail, applying to ACAT will help you solve your dispute. For more information on ACAT, please visit the ACAT website.

What sorts of disputes does ACAT handle?

ACAT has the ability to hear and determine a wide range of disputes. These include (but are not limited to):

  • civil disputes, such as disputes about a contract, debt, goods, trespass, nuisance and the Australian Consumer Law
  • disputes between a lessor and tenant (rental property disputes)
  • some disputes in unit title complexes and retirement villages
  • fence disputes
  • reviewable decisions made by the ACT Government
  • disciplinary action for certain occupations
  • guardianship, financial management and enduring powers of attorney
  • mental health treatment and care
  • an injury or death resulting from a motor accident in the ACT
  • issues with energy and water services, including complaints and hardship.

ACAT cannot hear a number of disputes of certain types, including (but not limited to):

  • criminal cases
  • family violence or personal protection orders (these are heard at the ACT Magistrates Court)
  • commercial and retail leases
  • fair work claims
  • most disputes over the distribution of property after the breakdown of a relationship (such as a marriage)
  • disputes over parenting or the custody of children
  • disputes over child support
  • disputes about wills, probate and administration of deceased estates
  • disputes about taxes or social welfare benefits
  • other cases in which ACAT does not have jurisdiction.

How do I apply to ACAT?

To bring a case to ACAT you must complete and ‘lodge’ certain application forms. Note that the lodgement of forms with ACAT may incur a fee.

You will be exempt from ACAT fees if:

  • you are named on a Commonwealth-issued Health Care Card, Low Income Health Care Card or Pensioner Concession Card OR
  • you are represented by Legal Aid, Aboriginal Legal Services (NSW/ACT) Ltd, or Canberra Community Law Ltd, including Street Law and the Women's Legal Centre (ACT & Region) Inc

To apply for an exemption, you need to:

  • fill in a request for exemption from paying fees for ACAT matter form
  • show or give to ACAT a photocopy of your health care or concession card, or your legal assistance letter or notice of representation from your legal representative.

You can also apply for a fee waiver if the payment would cause you hardship. For more information on fee waivers please visit the ACAT website.

Appearing in ACAT

ACAT is more informal than a Court, but it is still required to provide parties with procedural fairness. This means that each party understands the case being put against them, has a fair opportunity to present their case and their evidence, and have the matter adjudicated by an independent Member (the title for ACAT adjudicators). This means that if you are preparing an application, you should be clear on the facts and what you are seeking.

You need to be prepared. When the matter is listed for hearing you will usually not be granted an adjournment. Ensure you have all necessary statements, letters and documents when you come to your hearing, and have arranged for witnesses to be available.

Usually, the Member will tell the parties of the decision at the end of the hearing. In other cases, the Member will ‘reserve’ their decision and provide a written decision later. A written decision will include the reasons for the decision. A party can ask ACAT to provide a statement of reasons for any decision. This should be done within 14 days of the decision being handed down.

In ACAT, the standard rule is that each party pay their own costs of bringing the proceeding. That means that even if you win, you may still have to pay your own costs and the costs of your lawyer (if you engage one).

Enforcing an ACAT order

If you obtain an ACAT order requiring the other party to pay you money or carry out some other action, it is always possible that the other party may not comply.

ACAT does not enforce its own orders. To seek the enforcement of an order, you must apply to the ACT Magistrates Court.

Finding help

If your dispute is before ACAT and you need assistance with arguing your case, you should seek the advice of a lawyer. The Law Society can help you find a private lawyer or refer you to pro bono services that can assist with your matter. 

  • Online search: Find a law firm (select a relevant term from 'Areas of practice')
  • Online search: Find a lawyer
  • Call the Law Society on 02 6274 0300 and we can put you in touch with a lawyer or a firm who can help you

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