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Government & legal system

The Tribunal’s decision


How does the referee make a decision?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 18

The referee will make a decision only if the parties haven’t been able to reach a satisfactory agreement.

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 186

Referees can make their decisions on the basis of what they think is fair and right (“the substantial merits and justice” of the case) rather than a strict application of the law. The referee must take the relevant law into account but does not have to give effect to strict legal rights and obligations or to legal forms or technicalities.

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 21

The referee can give their decision verbally at the end of the hearing. But whether they do that or not, they have to put their decision in writing, including their reasons for the decision, and give the two sides a copy of the written decision.

What types of orders can be made?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 19

The referee can make different types of orders. For example, the referee can:

  • order one party to pay money to the other
  • order one party to deliver goods to the other (for example, if goods have been paid for and not delivered)
  • order one party to carry out or complete work for the other
  • change or cancel a contract or agreement between the parties (for example, a door-to-door sales contract)
  • make an order declaring that a party is not liable to pay the disputed amount to the other
  • dismiss the claim.

Time limit for complying with the referee’s decision

The unsuccessful party usually has 28 days to do what was agreed or what the referee has ordered.

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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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