Respond to an application – Goods and services disputes

When you get a notice about a goods and services dispute from VCAT, find out what this means for you and what you need to do.

Respond to a VCAT case image

What the notice means

If you’ve received a notice from us, someone has made an application against you to VCAT – the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. This means they have a dispute with you and have applied to VCAT to have it resolved.

You are called the respondent. The person who made the application is the applicant.

The applicant explains the dispute in their application form.

How VCAT works

Try to settle

Even if an application has been made against you, you can still try to resolve the dispute with the other parties without going to VCAT, right up until the hearing.

How to settle

Get help and advice before you come to VCAT

We can’t give you legal advice. These organisations may be able to help you.

Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV)

Information and advice on renting and accommodation, estate agents, building, shopping and trading.

Consumer Action Law Centre

Free and independent legal help and financial counselling. Based in Melbourne.

Federation of Community Legal Centres

Help for people facing economic, cultural or social disadvantage who have been impacted by legal issues.

Why you should come to VCAT

It’s very important that you don’t ignore the application made against you. At VCAT, you can have your say and explore options to resolve the dispute. 

If you don’t come, we can make a decision in your absence that affects you and can be enforced by a court.

What happens next

1 You’ve received a notice from VCAT
2 Read and understand the documents

Carefully read and understand the notice and the application made against you.

The applicant must send you copies of any documents they plan to use at VCAT. For example, receipts or correspondence.

If you haven’t received any documents within seven days of receiving the notice from us, contact the applicant directly. Their contact details are in the application.

3 Decide if you want to make your own claim

If you have your own claim against the applicant, you can submit an application with VCAT. This is called a counterclaim. You may need to pay an application fee.

Don’t confuse defending yourself against a claim with making your own claim. If you simply want to defend yourself against the applicant's claim, you don’t need to make your own application.

For example, a plumber is taking you to VCAT because they claim you didn’t pay them. Your counterclaim is that the plumber didn’t perform the work properly and didn’t complete the work you hired them to do. You want VCAT to order them to finish the job, or to pay the cost of another plumber to fix the defects and finish the job.

Submit your counterclaim as soon as possible before the hearing. We can arrange to have both claims heard together.

4 Send your documents to the applicant

If you are attending by phone or videoconference

If you are attending by phone or videoconference, make sure you send them to the applicant and VCAT by email and by the deadline we tell you in your notice.

If you are attending in person

If you are attending a hearing in person at VCAT, you must send copies of any documents you plan to use as evidence to the applicant. Do this at least 14 days before the hearing.

5 Prepare your case

You need to be ready to present facts and answer questions about the case. There are documents to organise and decisions to make.

The notice you receive from us tells you how we will handle your case. Find out how to prepare for a directions hearing, fast-track mediation, mediation, compulsory conference or final hearing.

If your claim is under $15,000, we generally don’t allow a lawyer or other professional representative to speak for you at VCAT.

6 Check the hearing details

Check the time, date and location (if you are attending in person). This is shown on the notice we send you.

You can confirm the time of your hearing at Upcoming hearings after 4.30pm on the day before your hearing.

7 Ask for any support services you need

We offer services such as interpreters and security, as well as disability, family violence and Koori support.

8 On the day

At VCAT you may come to mediation, hearing or other type of dispute resolution. At a mediation or compulsory conference you try to reach an agreement with the help of a facilitator.

At a final hearing, all parties can present their case, ask questions and give evidence in front of a VCAT member.

Bring any evidence you want to use to explain your point of view and a list of issues that you want to discuss.

What to expect on the day

If you are attending by phone or videoconference

If you are attending by phone or video make sure you’re ready at the time we give you. (It’s too late to ask to attend by phone on the day of the hearing.)

If you are attending in person

Arrive at least 30 minutes early to allow time to get through the security screening (similar to security at the airport) and find your hearing room. 

When you arrive:

  • Check your room at Upcoming hearings or speak to a staff member if you need help finding your hearing room.
  • Go to the hearing room and be ready to present your case.
  • Speak to a staff member if you have arranged security, disability support, an interpreter, or need help setting up your devices.
9 Get an outcome

If you reach an agreement (settle) at a mediation, the agreement is put in writing and signed by all parties.

If you come to a hearing, the VCAT member makes a decision and gives an order. An order tells parties how the case has been decided and any action they must take. All parties must follow VCAT's orders.

For example, ordering one party to pay another. In most cases, we tell you what the decision is, and the reasons for it, at the end of the hearing. We send the order to you after the hearing.

If you want the reasons in writing, ask the member at the hearing before they give the final decision.  

Help and support

  • A change to the date of a directions hearing, mediation, compulsory conference or hearing is called an ‘adjournment’. 
    If you can’t come to VCAT on the date we give you, you can ask for a change of date (adjournment). 

    First, ask the other parties in the case to agree using the Request for consent to an adjournment form

    Then, send us an adjournment application form no later than: 

    • two business days before a directions hearing, mediation or compulsory conference
    • two business days before a hearing for a residential tenancy case
    • five business days before a hearing for all other cases.

    You must: 

    • give us good reasons for the change, like a sudden illness, accident or bereavement in the family
    • give us evidence in writing to support your reasons (for example, a medical certificate)
    • ask for the change in writing no later than two business days before the directions hearing, mediation or compulsory conference or five days before a final hearing. 

    We may not agree to change the date, even if every person involved in the case agrees. Ask for an adjournment as soon as possible.

    A change of date isn’t always possible, and we can’t change the date simply to speed things up. The hearing will go ahead as scheduled if we don’t confirm a new date and time with you.
    Download the Adjournment Application Form

    See also: What happens if I can't come to VCAT?

  • What happens if you miss the hearing depends on if you’re the applicant or the respondent. 

    • If you’re the applicant and you don’t come to the hearing, the hearing can’t go ahead and your application may be dismissed or struck out
    • If you’re a respondent and you don’t come, VCAT may make a decision that affects you and can be enforced by a court. For example, the member could make an order for costs against you. 

    If you have a reasonable reason for not coming, and you didn’t have someone come for you, you may be able to apply for a review and rehearing (called ‘reopening an order’).  
    You need to make this application within 14 days of finding out about the order. We may not agree to your request if you do not have a good reason for not attending.

    Apply for a review and rehearing

  • VCAT cannot give legal advice. If you do choose to get legal advice, you will need to pay any costs. 

    If you want to talk about what you should do, you can access free or low-cost legal advice or find a private lawyer.
    If you want a lawyer or other professional representative to speak on your behalf at VCAT, let the other party know in writing before the hearing and ask permission when the hearing starts. You will need to explain why. 

    For some case types you have an automatic right to representation.

    If the claim is for goods and services under $15,000, we generally don’t allow a lawyer or other professional representative to speak for you at VCAT. 

    If you do choose to get legal advice, you’ll need to pay any costs. 

    Read more about legal and professional representation

  • You can contact the other party (or they can contact you) at any time to try to come to an agreement before the hearing. If you do reach an agreement, you and the other parties must let us know in writing, and copy in the other party, as soon as possible. 

    If you make an offer to settle and you want to keep it confidential, make it in writing to the other party and use the words ‘without prejudice’ in your offer. 

    This means that if your offer is not accepted by the other party, it cannot be discussed at a hearing. 

    You can try and resolve the dispute without VCAT right up until the day of the hearing, and for residential tenancy disputes, in the hearing.

    After you settle, if you’re the applicant you can end your case by asking us:

    • to withdraw your application
    • to strike out your case with the right to apply for reinstatement (except in a review of a planning decision) 
    • for consent orders. 

    Learn more about how you can settle a dispute outside VCAT

  • We offer support to ensure VCAT is culturally safe and inclusive for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

    We can help you with:

    • booking a Koori hearing room
    • organising a Koori Engagement Officer to attend your hearing or mediation with you
    • general information and advice about VCAT processes.

    Call our Koori Helpline to speak to a Koori Engagement Officer on 0417 516 335, Monday to Friday, 8.30am-4.30pm.
    Read more about Koori support at VCAT