Prepare for the hearing

It’s important to prepare for your hearing day. There are documents to organise and decisions to make so you’re ready to present the best case possible.

Is this page for you?

The notice we send you tells you what type of hearing you have. If you’re attending a directions hearing, practice day hearing or preliminary hearing, the process is different. Learn more about these hearings.

If you're involved in a dispute about planning, you will need to prepare a submission for your hearing. Find out more about how to prepare a submission.

A VCAT hearing allows all parties in a dispute to present their case, ask questions and provide evidence. A VCAT member listens and makes a decision to resolve the dispute, either at the end of the hearing or in writing later.

It’s important that you come so you can have your say. If you don’t come, VCAT can make a decision that may affect you and can be enforced by a court.

Most hearings are open to the public. If you would like to see what happens at a hearing you can sit and watch most VCAT hearings from the back of a hearing room.

Learn more about our fair hearing obligation.

If you’re attending by phone or videoconference

Make sure you send all parties and VCAT the supporting documents you plan to use at VCAT. You must send these by email. The deadline to send documents is in your notice or order.

Check the hearing details

  • Check the date, time and location for the hearing. This is shown on the notice or order we sent you. We will tell you if the date changes
  • You can also check the time and location of your hearing online after 4.30pm the day before. See Upcoming hearings
  • Check what to do if you can’t come to VCAT on the date
  • Look at the location and plan how to get there.

Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early to allow time to get through the security screening (similar to security at the airport at some venues) and find your hearing room. The hearing may start or finish late, so allow extra time. 

If you are late and miss your hearing:

  • the case may have been decided against you
  • your only option is to accept the decision or seek a rehearing on another date.

Decide if you want a lawyer or professional help

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

If you want a lawyer or other professional representative, 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.

Even if you’re represented, you should come to the hearing, because you have personal knowledge of the issues in the dispute.

Legal help and advice services

Pay the hearing fee

Not all hearings have a hearing fee. We tell you if you have to pay and how to pay in the Notice of Hearing, letter or email we send you. 

Pay your hearing fee by the day before your hearing to avoid it being postponed.  

If you are the applicant, or you submitted a counterclaim, you may have to pay a hearing fee before the hearing.

Pay your hearing fee

Prepare your case

Gather all the information and documents you need to present the best possible case.

The supporting documents and other material you bring help explain your side of the story and help the member make a decision. The member can only make a decision according to law and evidence.

You might bring:

What to do with your documents

  • If you’re coming to VCAT, you need to bring all the original documents and copies to the hearing to share with the VCAT member and the other party.
  • If you are the applicant or have a counterclaim, you must bring a copy of your application to the hearing
  • If you can’t come to the hearing and have arranged someone to come in your place, they must bring your written authority to make decisions on your behalf.  (If a company is a party, it must appoint someone to come to VCAT.)
  • If you are a respondent and we’ve asked you in the notice or order to send a response, you must send this by the date we give you. A response is a statement from you saying if you agree or disagree with the applicant and what they say in their application. You may hear this called a defence or points of defence.

Prepare your evidence

Send your documents to the other party

If you plan to use documents to support your case at VCAT, you must send copies to the other parties. This is called ‘serving’ the documents.

We will tell you if you also need to send documents to VCAT, otherwise you don’t need to. If you email or write to VCAT, you must include the VCAT reference number and also send copies to all the other parties named in the notice.

You may have to confirm you have done this by completing a Statement of Service or a Declaration of Service. We tell you if you need to complete these.

If you don’t send your documents, your hearing may be changed to a later date (adjourned).

How to send documents

Arrange witnesses

You can arrange for witnesses to come to the hearing to give evidence and provide documents.

Make sure you give other people, including your witnesses, enough time to prepare and to be available on the hearing day. For example, arranging reports from expert witnesses can take time.

A witness may also be able to give written evidence in an affidavit.

If VCAT orders it, a witness must provide a statutory declaration.

A witness who gives evidence in writing may still need to come to the hearing to answer questions from the VCAT member or other parties.

If a witness you want to appear refuses to, you may be able to force or ‘summon’ them to come.

Prepare what you want to say

Be ready to clearly explain and answer questions about:

  • the facts of your case (what happened, when, what you did, what the other party did)
  • the outcome you want. If you are the applicant this must reflect what you have asked for in your application.

Make sure you carefully read the other party's supporting documents so that you understand their claim and can respond to it. This includes reading the application or the counterclaim, if the respondent has made one.

You have the right to ask questions of the other party and any witnesses they may bring. Prepare a list of questions you might want to ask.

Tips on how to present your case

  • Get to know your case type. Think about observing a hearing of your case type to better understand what to expect, what the hearing room is like, how to act and how to dress.
  • Stay calm. You may be stressed about coming to VCAT. You’re more likely to present your best case if you stay calm.
  • Be prepared. Make sure you bring a copy of all the documents you sent to the respondent. Bring a pen and paper to take notes.
  • Show don’t just tell. Show the member and the other parties evidence like photos, video, reports.
  • Focus on the facts. Be clear about what happened. Describe the events in the order they happened.
  • Listen. The member who hears the case will support you to talk about your side of the story. If you’re unsure at any time, they can help. Listen to what they say carefully.
  • Watch your tone. Avoid aggressive, offensive language and behaviour. This is not acceptable.
  • Keep to what we know. Avoid raising new issues at the hearing without telling the member and the other parties beforehand.

Decide who to bring with you

You can bring someone with you to your hearing for support. This support person could be anyone you choose, including a friend or family member. They can’t usually speak on your behalf, but they can help explain what you need (for example, ask for a break).

You cannot bring someone to translate for you. If you need an interpreter you must ask us to arrange for one.

Contact us for support services

Contact us well before your hearing if you need the following services:

  • security
  • family violence support
  • Koori support
  • interpreter
  • services for people with disability
  • technology support.

Find out more about our support services.

Help and support

  • We send you the time, date and location of your hearing in a letter called a ‘notice’.  
     
    If you can’t come on the day of your hearing, mediation or compulsory conference, you can ask to change the date.
     
    Hearing times may change on the day. Check the time and location of your hearing after 4.30pm the day before at Upcoming hearings.

    Find upcoming hearings

  • 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?

  • Trying to come to an agreement could save you the time, effort and the cost of going to a hearing at VCAT. Reaching agreement helps you put the dispute behind you and move on with your life.  

    Here are some tips on how to settle a dispute:

    • Stay calm. You may be upset or offended that there is a claim against you. You’re more likely to reach agreement if you stay calm. 
    • Be prepared to negotiate. Think about a range of options or alternatives you would be prepared to accept. Think about the choices and what your ‘bottom line’ really is. 
    • Listen. Listen carefully to the other party so you don’t miss important details. You could also pick up things that will help with your argument. 
    • Watch your tone. Avoid aggressive, offensive language and behaviour. This is not acceptable. 
    • Focus on the outcome. Be clear about what you hope to achieve and ways to get there. 
    • Think about the other party’s position. They have their own perspective on the dispute, just like you do. Compromising and agreeing to some of their interests, as well as satisfying some of yours, gives you a better chance of reaching an outcome.

    Learn more about how you can settle a dispute outside VCAT

    See also: What happens if we come to an agreement before the hearing?

  • If you are the applicant, you can ask for permission to withdraw your VCAT application at any time before the hearing, for example, if you change your mind. You must let us and the other parties know in writing as soon as possible if you want to apply to withdraw. 

    For some case types if you are the applicant you may have to pay costs to the respondent if you withdraw your claim. 

    If you do withdraw your application, in most cases it can’t be reinstated. (This doesn’t apply in cases about guardians, administratrators, and powers of attorney for example.) You may be able to start a new application about the same dispute later. There will be new fees to pay and we may not accept your application.

    Read more about how to withdraw your application

    Cases about guardians, administrators, supportive guardians and supportive administrators

    If you want to withdraw your application in a case about guardians, administrators, supportive guardians and supportive administrators:

    • Write to us, explaining why orders are no longer needed.
    • We consider whether there is any serious risk to the person you made the application about. This is because the law requires us to protect a person who may have a decision-making disability.

    Even if an application has been withdrawn, the applicant or anyone else is able to make another application about the same circumstances at any later time.
     

  • To change your VCAT application you need to ask before the final hearing for the change to be made.

    We can’t always make every type of change to every type of case. For example, if what you're asking is something we cannot deal with or a time limit has passed.

    We usually accept changes to your contact details before your hearing. If you're asking to change a name or the details of your claim, you may have to wait until you go to a hearing to find out if we can accept it.

    1. Tell us what you want to change (for example, contact details) and your reasons in writing, by post or by email.
      Find the right email address for your type of case or send a written letter to GPO Box 5408, Melbourne VIC 3000
    2. Include the application reference number and any documents that support the change.
    3. Tell the other person or business (the other ‘party’) about the change in writing, and send them copies of any new documents.

    VCAT must review and accept your change and we’ll tell you the outcome. 

    Sometimes we’ll arrange a brief session called a ‘directions hearing’ to work out if we’ll allow the change. This often happens when the other person or business involved (the respondent) has a problem with the change.

    Planning cases

    If you are the permit applicant and want to change your application, you need to send the notice and complete the Statement of Service to confirm you’ve shared your documents. 

    To find the right contact details relevant to your dispute, see Contacts and locations.

    See also: Can I change the amount I’m claiming in my application?