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Government & legal system

The Disputes Tribunal

Overview of the Disputes Tribunal

Key information about the Disputes Tribunal is summarised elsewhere in this manual in a table comparing the Disputes Tribunal to the Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal: see “Buying a motor vehicle” in the chapter “Consumer protection”.

What is the Disputes Tribunal?

The Disputes Tribunal is an informal forum that can be used to resolve a wide range of disputes. The focus of the Tribunal is on claims about smaller amounts of money or property. The Tribunal is governed by the Disputes Tribunal Act 1988.

Unlike the ordinary courts, the Disputes Tribunal is inexpensive, flexible, quick, informal and private.

There are no lawyers or judges in the Disputes Tribunal. While the law is important, the Tribunal also looks at what is fair and just in the circumstances.

Disputes are heard by a trained referee. Referees are appointed because of their personal qualities, knowledge and experience, and many referees have training in dispute resolution or have a law degree. The referee works with the people on both sides of the dispute to see if they can reach an agreement. If they cannot agree, the referee can make a binding decision.

What types of disputes can the Disputes Tribunal hear?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 10

The Disputes Tribunal can deal with a wide variety of disputes, including:

  • Consumer disputes, such as disputes about:
    • whether work has been done properly
    • the amount of money charged for work that has been done
    • defective goods
    • loss caused by misleading advertising
    • hire purchase agreements (now called credit sales)
    • debts.
  • Neighbour disputes, such as disputes about:
    • fencing issues
    • tree roots causing damage to drains
    • damage to property.
  • Other disputes, such as disputes about:
    • damage to a car in an accident
    • contract disputes
    • disputes about business agreements
    • flatmate disputes.

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 16

Note: You can legally take a dispute to the Disputes Tribunal even if you have signed an agreement saying that you cannot use the Disputes Tribunal.

What types of disputes can’t be taken to the Disputes Tribunal?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 11

The Disputes Tribunal cannot be used for:

  • collecting undisputed debts
  • disputes about wills
  • family disputes, such as disputes over care arrangements or child support
  • disputes about welfare benefits or ACC payments
  • disputes about rates or taxes
  • disputes about the ownership of land or rights of way
  • residential tenancy disputes between landlords and tenants
  • employment disputes
  • disputes about copyright or intellectual property.

    Note: Most of these areas have their own dispute resolution processes, for example, through the Tenancy Tribunal or the Employment Relations Authority.

How large a claim can I take to the Disputes Tribunal?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, ss 10(1A)

The Disputes Tribunal can hear disputes up to the value of $30,000.

Next Section | Making a claim

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The Disputes Tribunal

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and can help you apply to the Disputes Tribunal or defend a claim there.

Consumer NZ


This provides information on how the Disputes Tribunal works, your rights at the hearing and how to file a claim.

Disputes Tribunal


This website includes general information about how to apply, fees, the hearing process, and appeals.

You can apply online at:

Some Disputes Tribunal decisions are available to read at: www.disputesTribunal.govt.nz/disputes-decision-finder

Citizens Advice Bureau


Phone (0800 FOR CAB) 0800 367 222

Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for information about the Disputes Tribunal process.

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