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 for the hearing, when you arrive:
- the case may have been decided against you
- the other party may have left the venue
- 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.
Pay the hearing fee
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. We tell you if you have to pay and how to pay in the Notice of Hearing, letter or email we send you.
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:
- documents - for example invoices, receipts, contracts and reports
- expert reports
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.
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.
You can only send documents to other parties by email if you have already exchanged information with them this way. If not, send documents by post or give them in person.
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).
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
See our help and support page if you need any of the following services:
- family violence support
- Koori support
- services for people with disability
- technology support.
Make sure you do this well before your hearing.
Other things you need to know
Your situation can change in the days or weeks before the hearing. Here are some options when they do.
Settle with the other party
You can contact the other party (or they can contact you) at any time before the hearing to try to come to an agreement. If you do reach an agreement (settle), you and the other party must separately let us know in writing, and copy each other in, 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 hearing.
Withdraw your application
If you want to cancel your VCAT application, this is called withdrawing your application.
You can withdraw at any time before the hearing if:
- you are claiming less than $15,000 in a dispute about goods and services, and
- the Australian Consumer Law applies to your case.
For all other applications, you must ask VCAT’s permission to withdraw.
You must let us and the other party know in writing as soon as possible if you want to withdraw.
There can be financial and legal consequences if you withdraw:
- your application cannot be reinstated. You may be able to start a new application later about the same facts and circumstances if VCAT gives you permission, but there will be new fees to pay.
- the respondent may ask VCAT to order you to pay costs. If so, we review the evidence and make a decision about this.
Change your application
You can ask to change your application (or counterclaim) before the hearing, for example, to add information or change the claim you are making, or to change your contact details. You must copy the other party into your request.
Some changes, such as contact details, are straightforward and it’s important to let us know about these as soon as possible.
If you want to change the amount of your claim or add other parties to the case, you need VCAT’s permission and you may have to pay extra fees.
When you apply for permission to change your application, VCAT looks at your request and may schedule a directions hearing to decide if the change will be allowed.
How to communicate with VCAT and other parties
Understand when and how to communicate with VCAT and any other parties involved in your case.
Evidence helps you prove your side of the story and helps the VCAT member to decide how the matter should be resolved.
Help and support
How do I get the date of my hearing?
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.
How do I change my VCAT date?
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.
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.
- five business days before a hearing
- 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.
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?