Please note: Articles on this website were originally published by in 2015 and may now be out of date. Revised and updated content is included in Civil Litigation for Non-Lawyers [available here]. Disclaimer

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  • Disputes Tribunal Jurisdiction
  • Extending jurisdiction up to $20,000
  • Remedies in the Disputes Tribunal
  • Interest
  • Costs

The Disputes Tribunal deals with civil disputes of up to $15,000, which can be extended up to $20,000 by agreement. This can be a cost-effective option because filing fees start from only $36.30 and lawyers are not allowed to represent disputants.

You can discount your claim to bring it within the $20,000 or $15,000 threshold. Otherwise you would need to make your claim in the District Court or High Court. The District Court has jurisdiction to hear civil disputes worth up to $200,000. The High Court can hear claims of any value, although you may not be awarded all the costs you might expect if you could have brought your case in a lower court but went to the High Court instead. See, for instance, Northland Coastal Developments Limited v Twce (2014) Limited [2014] NZHC 2638 [28 October 2014].

Similarly, you cannot make a claim in the Disputes Tribunal if there is no actual dispute. There would be no dispute where a party either accepts your position or is unresponsive. Sometimes parties might completely agree with your position on a problem but say they cannot do anything about it. A typical example is where someone accepts they owe you a debt but say they cannot pay. There is no dispute about the existence of the debt in that example: The difficulty is with the party complying with its legal obligations.

You could bring your case before the District or High Court if you cannot bring it before the Disputes Tribunal because there is no dispute. Then, assuming you are able to obtain a judgment, you could take enforcement action through the courts to compel compliance. See those parts of this text that deal with enforcement for more on that.

Kinds of disputes that the Disputes Tribunal can help with, according to the Ministry of Justice (Disputes Tribunal Factsheet 1 as at 1 May 2015), includes:

1. Fencing issues

2. Tree roots causing damage to drains

3. Damage to property

4. Whether work has been done properly

5. The amount of money charged for work that has been done

6. Defective goods

7. Loss caused by misleading advertising

8. Disputed debts

9. Damage to a car in a collision

10. Contract disputes

11. Disputes about business agreements

12. Disputes between flatmates

Kinds of disputes that the Disputes Tribunal does not deal with, again according to the Ministry of Justice (Disputes Tribunal Factsheet 1 as at 1 May 2015):

1. Disputes between landlords and tenants

2. Disputes about rates, taxes, social welfare benefits or ACC payments

3. Disputes about intellectual property

4. Employment disputes

5. Disputes about wills or land

6. Family law issues such as relationship property and care of children

Extending jurisdiction up to $20,000

You can extend the jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal from $15,000 up to $20,000 so long as the other party or parties agree to that. They might be interested to do so in order to resolve the dispute quicker and cheaper than might be the case in the District Court.

Any agreement to extend jurisdiction should be recorded in writing. The Disputes Tribunal makes an agreement to extend jurisdiction available from its website at forms and resources.

Remedies in the Disputes Tribunal

It is worth considering the kind of remedies or ‘relief’ or outcome that the Disputes Tribunal could give you at an early stage. That is because you could waste time and costs reading about or preparing a case for the Tribunal only to find out later that it cannot actually give you what you want. It could be that you should take your case to the District Court or High Court instead.

Examples of the kinds of remedies that the Disputes Tribunal may give:

1. an order that one party must pay money to another;

2. a declaration that a party is not liable to pay money to another;

3. an order that a party is to remedy unsatisfactory workmanship or repair defective goods;

4. a declaration that an agreement is void or cancelled;

5. an order varying an agreement;

6. an order for possession of goods; and

7. an order dismissing the Disputes Tribunal claim.


If the parties have specified some rate of interest in a contract then that rate may apply to monies due under that contract. Interest clauses may be unenforceable for a variety of reasons however, and any default rules may be applied as an alternative.

The relevant ‘default rule’ for interest in the Disputes Tribunal is clause 4 of the Disputes Tribunals (Prescribed Rate of Interest) Order 2011. The Disputes Tribunal can award interest of not more than 5% per year on money ordered to be paid by one party to another under that rule. The interest can run from the date when the cause of action for the money arose to the date when the order for that money is made.


Section 43 of the Disputes Tribunals Act 1988 provides a general prohibition against any award of costs by a Disputes Tribunal. “Costs” could include legal fees for advice in relation to a claim or intended claim. However, section 43 does goes on to set out some limited exceptions to the general rule:

(1) Except as provided in this section, costs shall not be awarded against a party to any proceedings before a Tribunal.

(2) Where, in the opinion of the Tribunal, a claim made by a party is frivolous or vexatious, it may, subject to any rules made under this Act, order that party to pay –

(a) to the Crown, the fees and expenses of any witness, or of an Investigator, that have been paid by the Crown:

(b) to a party, the costs of that party in connection with the proceedings.

(3) Where, in the opinion of the Tribunal, any party has –

(a) lodged a claim knowing that the claim is not within the jurisdiction of a Tribunal; or

(b) unnecessarily prolonged any proceedings by engaging in conduct intended to impede the prompt resolution of the proceedings, –

The Tribunal may, subject to any rules made under this Act, order that party to pay to any other party the costs, or part of the costs, of that party in connection with the proceedings.

(4) Where –

(a) any proceedings within the jurisdiction of a Tribunal have been commenced in a District Court; and

(b) those proceedings have been transferred to a Tribunal under section 37(1); and

(c) the Tribunal is satisfied that those proceedings were commenced in that court and not in a Tribunal on account of any act or omission of any party to those proceedings that was intended or likely to induce the party who commenced those proceedings to believe that the proceedings were not within the jurisdiction of a Tribunal, –

The Tribunal may order the first-mentioned party to pay to the party who commenced the proceedings –

(d) the fee paid by the latter party in respect of the filing of those proceedings in the District Court; and

(e) any solicitor’s costs incurred by the latter party in respect of the preparation of the documents necessary for the filing of those proceedings, which costs shall not exceed the amount prescribed in relation to that matter under rules made under the District Courts Act 1947.

Note: This content was originally published by in 2015. Disclaimer