QCAT (Small Claims Court)

The Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal, also known as QCAT, is an independent tribunal that has jurisdiction to hear a wide variety of matters that concern certain civil disputes, such as tenancy disputes, building disputes and minor debt and consumer disputes.

The purpose of QCAT is to provide efficient, accessible, and inexpensive dispute resolution services to parties seeking a more flexible and economical way to resolve a dispute. QCAT promotes and encourages quick, inexpensive resolutions to disputes by providing a number of different services,  including mediation, hearings, and compulsory conferences.

Who can apply to QCAT?

Applications to QCAT can be made by basically anyone, including:

  • Individuals
  • Companies
  • Government Departments
  • Certain Disciplinary Boards

If QCAT considers that the application should be transferred to another dispute resolution service or tribunal, the matter may be referred to another jurisdiction, including for example the Queensland Ombudsman or the State Courts.

You should not rely on QCAT to transfer you to the correct jurisdiction because time and time again we speak to clients about losing in QCAT. The reasons are usually:

  1. They started in the wrong jurisdiction and were never told to transfer
  2. They didn’t select the best type of legal action available to them
  3. They didn’t seek assistance in putting together their legal argument and evidence

Although we provide a summary below of the main matters that QCAT deal with, you should seek legal advice prior to lodging a QCAT dispute to determine whether it is the correct jurisdiction.

How can I apply to QCAT?

In order to file an application with QCAT, you should follow the following steps:

  1. Go to the QCAT website;
  2. Find your matter type (e.g. building dispute, minor civil dispute, motor vehicle dispute, etc.) and review the relevant application process for your matter type;
  3. Complete the required application form for your matter type; and
  4. Lodge the application form with QCAT according to the instructions/application process for your matter type.

If you are uncertain what type of matter your dispute relates to, you are unsure what your legal rights and obligations are, or you want to ensure that you complete the required form correctly, you should seek legal advice before commencing a claim with QCAT.

At Gibbs Wright Litigation Lawyers, we can assist you with your application, legal argument, organising your evidence and, in more complicated matters, appearing and arguing at a hearing on your behalf.

Talk to a Lawyer today

If you have any questions regarding any of our services, or just need a question answered about a QCAT dispute, then make an enquiry and our Litigation team will be in touch with you as soon as possible.

What type of disputes does QCAT cover?

QCAT Covers a wide range of disputes, including:

Minor Civil Disputes is an umbrella subject area covering a wide range of different types of minor disputes, including claims for recovery of debts, damage to property and disputes between neighbours regarding dividing fences.

The common denominator for all ‘minor civil dispute’ matters is that the amount claimed by the applicant must not exceed $25,000. Some of the more common types of disputes have been explained in more detail below.

A party seeking to commence a claim with QCAT regarding a building dispute will only be able to do so after they have already participated in a dispute resolution process with the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC). Accordingly, the applicant must submit a reference letter from QBCC when lodging the QCAT application to confirm that they have participated in the QBCC dispute resolution process, and that the outcome of the process was unsuccessful.

QCAT can decide building disputes relating to both domestic and commercial building work, as well as disciplinary proceedings against building certifiers and contractors.

A diving fence dispute is a disagreement between owners of adjoining properties about fence construction or maintenance. Owners of adjoining properties are generally equally responsible for the costs associated with construction and repair of dividing fences. Fence disputes commonly arise because one owner refuses to contribute or otherwise challenges or disagrees with the necessity or estimated cost of the fence.

It is important to note that QCAT will not hear a dividing fence dispute unless one of the parties to the dispute can show that they have served (delivered) what is commonly referred to as a ‘Notice to Contribute for Fencing Work’ on the other party. The Notice to Contribute for Fencing Work is a requirement in matters where a party wishes to construct or repair a dividing fence.

For more information on fence disputes, see our Tree, Fencing and Neighbourhood Disputes Page.

Consumer and trader disputes refer to disputes between individuals, companies and/or traders in relation to the supply of goods and services. Consumer and trader disputes can be commenced in QCAT provided the amount claimed does not exceed $25,000.00.

The term ‘goods’ refers to merchandise or possessions, including appliances, food, clothes, furniture, etc. The term ‘service’ refers to the action of providing work or assistance for someone, such as repairing a defect motor vehicle, vehicle servicing and maintenance, painting a house, etc.

For more information about consumer law disputes, see our Australian Consumer Law Page.

Small debt disputes involve disagreements between businesses, companies and/or individual about fixed or agreed sums of money at a value of up to $25,000.00. It is important to note that QCAT does not handle debt disputes of more than $25,000.00.

Example of debt disputes include:

  • Unpaid Invoices
  • Rent Arrears
  • Unpaid Accounts
  • IOUs
  • Dishonoured Cheques
  • Money lent and not repaid

We generally advise our clients to commence debt recovery proceedings in the Magistrates Court of Queensland rather than QCAT. There are several reasons for this, but it is usually quicker and more cost effective. Almost all debt buyers* recover money in the Magistrates Court, not QCAT.

*Debt buyers are companies that buy overdue debts at a discount and recover them for profit.

For more information about debt disputes, see our Debt Disputes page.

Motor vehicle disputes involve claims against motor dealers for failure to repair a defect of a vehicle under warranty,  or for failure to comply with general consumer guarantees.

QCAT has jurisdiction to hear the matter provided the relief sought does not exceed $100,000.

The following are some examples of documents that a person involved in a motor vehicle dispute should keep a record of and may wish to provide when lodging the application with QCAT in order to support the claim (depending on the circumstances of each individual matter):

  • The purchase contract for the vehicle;
  • Any warranty notices;
  • Any defect notices;
  • Any invoices directly relevant to the dispute;
  • Any correspondence between the parties to the dispute;
  • Any photos the applicant wishes to rely on; and
  • Any reports relating to the subject matter of the dispute.

Note that you should provide formal written notice to a motor dealer prior to commencing proceedings. If you’re unsure about the written notice requirements, contact us.

Put simply, a tree dispute involves a disagreement between neighbours about one or more trees situated on adjoining properties. Common disputes involve costs relating to overhanging branch removals and damage to property and/or other interference with land as a result of a tree growing on a neighbouring property.

QCAT generally makes decisions regarding trees growing on residential parcels of land. As such, QCAT strongly encourages parties to a tree dispute to attempt to avoid or resolve the disputes as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Some of the main recommendations QCAT provides to resolve tree disputes include:

  • Familiarising yourself with the obligations of a tree-keeper (e.g. responsibilities regarding roots, tree heights, branches, leaves, risk of harm or injury to person or property, etc);
  • Obtaining expert advice on proper maintenance and care of trees; and
  • Seeking alternative help on resolving any disputes that may arise early on to avoid more serious disputes at a later date.

For more information on tree disputes, see our Tree, Fencing and Neighbourhood Disputes Page.

QCAT has jurisdiction to decide a wide range of residential tenancy disputes. Most tenancy disputes involve disagreements between tenants and landlords or agents in relation to matters concerning rent and bond payments, sub-letting, termination or transfer of tenancy agreements, house rule changes, abandoned goods or locks and keys issues.

Before making an application to QCAT to hear a residential tenancy matter,  the applicant must follow the following three-step process:

  • Step 1 – Try to resolve the matter face to face;
  • Step 2 – If the dispute is still unresolved, contact the Residential Tenancies Authority (RTA) and try to resolve the dispute through their Dispute Resolution Service; and
  • Step 3 – If all of the above steps fail, apply to QCAT to resolve the dispute.

However, if the residential tenancy dispute is urgent, the applicant may skip steps 1 and 2 and apply directly to QCAT.

For more information on tenancy disputes, see our Tenancy Disputes Page.

Discrimination can be described as less favourable treatment of a person due to an identifiable attribute, such as race, gender and religious or political beliefs. QCAT has jurisdiction to hear a wide range of discrimination complaints, from sexual harassment to victimisation and vilification. However, QCAT may only hear a matter after it has already been investigated and referred to QCAT by the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland (ADCQ).

Where a matter has been referred to QCAT, the tribunal may make a number of different orders against the respondent (i.e. the party against whom the complaint was made), including but not limited to orders requiring the respondent to:

  • Compensate the injured party
  • Immediately cease the action that caused the complaint to be made
  • Pay the other party’s costs of the application
  • Redress the loss or damage suffered by the complainant
  • Implement programs to eliminate unlawful discrimination
  • Make a public or private apology or retraction

For more information on discrimination disputes, see our Anti-Discrimination Page.

The above list of dispute matters that QCAT has jurisdiction to deal with is not exhaustive. If you are involved in a minor civil dispute not covered above, you should seek legal advice as to the appropriate jurisdiction to commence your claim in.

Some other civil disputes that are not included in the above list that may still be heard through QCAT include (but are not limited to):

  • Body corporate and community management scheme disputes;
  • Legal costs agreement disputes; and
  • Retirement village disputes.

Need advice?

If you are involved in a dispute and want advice regarding whether or not you can commence a claim in QCAT, call Gibbs Wright Litigation Lawyers today for a free and confidential consultation about your dispute.

Where will my QCAT proceeding take place?

If you are located near Brisbane, your QCAT proceeding is likely to take place at the QCAT offices located at 259 Queen Street. If you reside in regional Queensland, QCAT does offer hearings and services at various local Magistrates’ Courts.

If you have made a claim with QCAT, QCAT will send you a letter closer to your hearing to advise you of when and where your hearing is to take place. Some hearings may also be heard via telephone or videoconference. If you wish to attend via telephone or videoconference, you should apply to QCAT a minimum of 3 days before your hearing.

What do I need to prepare for my QCAT proceeding?

What you will need to prepare for your QCAT proceeding depends on the type of proceeding you are attending. Whether you are attending a hearing, a mediation or a compulsory conference, the guidelines you will need to follow in relation to preparation and attendance may vary slightly.

You will receive a letter from QCAT closer to your proceeding with instructions on how to prepare for and attend the proceeding. You should follow these instructions carefully.

Irrespective of the type of proceeding you are attending, QCAT generally advises that you follow the following general guidelines:

  1. Prepare all evidence you attend to rely on in the proceeding prior to the day of the proceeding;
  2. Arrive at least 15 minutes before your proceeding commences;
  3. Ensure you listen carefully to all instructions provided at the beginning of the proceeding;
  4. When it is your time to speak, be clear, concise and to the point; and
  5. Refrain from interrupting others during the proceeding.

If you have a minor claim, we can often assist by drafting written arguments and preparing your evidence to maximise your prospects of success. In more complicated or expensive matters, we may be able to represent you at a QCAT hearing.

Who can represent me at my QCAT proceeding?

It is generally expected that you will represent yourself at your QCAT proceeding. However, you may be able to apply to QCAT to have someone else represent you, such as a solicitor or an advocate.

The following are examples of some circumstances where QCAT may allow a party to have representation at the proceeding:

  • Where it is likely that the proceeding may involve complex questions of fact or law;
  • Where the other party to the proceeding has representation;
  • Where the party is a state agency; or
  • Where all parties to the proceeding have agreed to the party having legal representation.

In some circumstances, QCAT will automatically allow a party to be represented, such as:

  • Where the party is a child or a person with impaired capacity;
  • Where the matter relates to a disciplinary proceeding; or
  • Where law or legislation otherwise allows the party to be represented.

Even if you are not allowed legal representation at the actual hearing, you are still allowed to obtain legal advice prior to the hearing.

At Gibbs Wright Litigation Lawyers, we can provide advice and assistance during any stage of your QCAT matter.

What happens at a QCAT hearing?

Depending on the type of hearing you are attending, there may be slight variations to the general procedures that will take place at your hearing. However, the following are some general guidelines to give you an idea of what your hearing is likely to be like:

  • When you arrive at the QCAT offices, you should notify the reception staff of your arrival. The QCAT or Court staff will generally request that you fill out a form confirming your personal information.
  • Shortly before the hearing is about to commence, a QCAT Hearing Support Officer (HSO) will announce the matter name (i.e. the names of the parties involved in the proceeding) to ensure everyone is present.
  • If you have any special needs (e.g. you require the use of electronic equipment), or you have witnesses with you, you should let the HSO know at this point. Witnesses will be required to wait outside until they are called to give evidence.
  • The HSO will then announce some general information about the proceeding, including how evidence will be presented and the Member (i.e. the QCAT decision-maker – similar to a Judge) that will decide your matter. You should listen carefully to these instructions.
  • Once the hearing room is ready, the HSO will escort you to the hearing room.
  • There may be between 1-3 members hearing your case, depending on the type of matter your hearing relates to. You should address the Member(s) as “Member” or by their title and family name (i.e. ‘Mr Smith’ or ‘Ms Brown’).
  • The HSO will announce the Member entering the hearing room at the commencement of the hearing, at which point you will be required to stand until the Member has entered and allowed you to sit down.
  • You will be requested to identify yourself. Make sure you generally speak only when addressed. If you have something to say, ask permission; for example, “Member, may I respond to that?”.
  • The Member will generally allow the applicant to present their case and witnesses first, after which the respondent will be allowed to present their case and witnesses.
  • The Member might request you to confirm or expand on certain information. The Member will also allow all witnesses to be cross-examined.
  • After all evidence has been presented, the Member will ask each party to summarise their case and state why they believe the Member(s) should decide in their favour (closing submissions).
  • The Member(s) will then proceed to make a decision based on the facts and evidence presented. The decision may be announced at the hearing, or the decision may be reserved (i.e. the tribunal will take some further time to consider the matter and announce the decision at a later date).
  • If the matter is particularly complicated, the Member(s) may decide that another hearing is required, in which case you will be presented with a new hearing date.

If you receive a favourable order and the person still doesn’t pay (or comply with the order) you may need to enforce the order.

For recovery of money, you will need to ‘register’ the QCAT decision with the Magistrates Court. This is a simple process and the Court staff can assist you.

Once you’ve registered the judgment, you will need to either:

You should seek legal advice in relation to enforcement proceedings.

Are QCAT decisions legally binding?

Yes – all QCAT decisions and agreements are legally binding and enforceable. As such, if you have had a decision made against you, it is important that you comply with the order made by the tribunal.

However, you may be able to appeal a decision that has been made against you.

Contact us about your QCAT matter

We offer an initial, no cost, obligation-free consultation to assess the strength of your case.