After you apply – Building and construction disputes
After you’ve applied to VCAT, it’s important to understand what you need to do and what happens next.
Whenever you email or write to VCAT you must also send a copy to all other parties involved in the case.
1 Apply to VCAT
2 We contact you
COVID-19 has impacted normal timeframes for building and construction hearings. The current timeframes to get to a hearing after we receive your application are:
- Mediation – 9 weeks
- Compulsory conference – 31 weeks
- Directions hearing – 9 weeks
- Small claim dispute – 37 weeks
- Complex multi-day hearing – 53 weeks
We understand the impact of these delays to you and are working hard to reduce the backlog. As soon as a case opens, we make directions to get it moving. This means you won’t have to wait for a directions hearing, but you can still apply for one if you think it’s necessary.
We assess your application and contact you as soon as we can take the next steps in your case to:
- give you a date to come to VCAT
- ask for more information if we need it
- let you know if we can't deal with your dispute.
We also send a copy of your application to the other party.
Settling your dispute before your hearing
When we open a case, you can still try to resolve the dispute yourself with the other party, right up until the hearing.
If you do settle, you must contact us to tell us you've come to an agreement and don't need a hearing.
A directions hearing is a hearing where a VCAT member decides how a case should be managed and how much time it will take.
At the directions hearing, the VCAT member may:
- clarify and explore ways to resolve any issues that are raised
- decide whether the case should go to mediation, compulsory conference or hearing
- set dates for parties to send documents to VCAT and to each other
- order physical evidence to be inspected by an expert witness – for example, requiring a car to be inspected by a mechanic
- make a final order to confirm an agreement between the parties or decide any legal issues raised.
3 You receive a notice
If we can accept your application, you get a notice that gives you the date, time and whether you need to attend by phone, video or in person. The notice explains what you need to do next.
4 Send your documents to everyone involved
VCAT will send a copy of your application to the other parties.
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 your documents by email. The deadline to send documents is in your notice or order. You do not have to send documents before a directions 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.
6 Tell us if things change
- you or your representative’s contact details change
- you settle the dispute before you are due to come to VCAT.
If you settle the dispute before you are due to come to VCAT
You can use this sample terms of settlement to record what you and the other parties have agreed to.
You might want to get legal advice to check if the sample wording is right for you.
VCAT will then make an order to finalise the case. We usually make an order that the case is struck out with a right to apply for reinstatement, with no orders as to costs.
What is a strikeout with a right of reinstatement?A case that has been struck out and can be re-opened. If we strike out a case, any party can ask us to re-open it.
7 Check the hearing details
Check the time, date and location (if you are coming to VCAT in person). This is shown on the notice we send you.
You can find out the time for your hearing at Upcoming hearings after 4.30pm on the day before your hearing.
8 Pay your hearing fee
We contact you in writing to tell you if you need to pay hearing fees. You must pay before the hearing. If you don’t, your hearing will be postponed (adjourned).
9 On the day
At a final hearing, all parties can present their case, ask questions and give evidence in front of a VCAT member.
Attending by phone or videoconference
To avoid missing your hearing, it's important you check your Notice of Hearing. It tells you if your hearing is by phone or videoconference (Zoom).
If you're attending by phone you must call VCAT using the phone number and pin we give you in the notice.
For more help see: How to join a phone or videoconference
10 Get an outcome
You may reach an agreement (settle) at a mediation or compulsory conference. This agreement is put in writing and signed by all parties. VCAT makes a consent order.
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. For example, ordering one party to pay another. All parties must follow VCAT's orders.
We give you the order at the end of the hearing or send it to you after the hearing. We always give you reasons for the order we make, with the exception of an interim order. You can ask for these reasons in writing within 14 days of the hearing.
11 Enforce the order
If other parties don’t follow the order, contact them. If they still don’t do what the order says or you can’t contact them, you may ask a court to enforce the order.
You need to ask us for a certified copy of your order.
Help and support
What happens if we come to an agreement before attending VCAT?
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.
Can I cancel my application?
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.
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.
How do I send documents to other people in the case?
If you are applying to VCAT, you must share a copy of your application and all other supporting documents that are part of your case (like evidence or correspondence with us) with the person or business you are making your claim against (the ‘respondent’ or ‘respondents’).
We’ll tell you when to do this. If you disadvantage someone by not giving them a copy of the documents you plan to use in the case, VCAT may make an order or award costs against you.
Whether you made the application or are defending a claim, if you’re writing to VCAT about your case, you must always send a copy to the other person or business (‘party’).
You can send copies of your application and other correspondence to parties by:
- email – if you’ve emailed them before applying to VCAT, or if they’ve given us their email address
- by post
- in person
Make sure you include your VCAT reference number with the documents.
Proof you sent documents
We need to see proof that you’ve shared your documents for some types of cases:
Goods and services cases
For goods and services cases, fill in the Declaration of Service form
Make sure you:
- complete all parts of the form
- sign it before an authorised witness
- send it to us at least one week before your hearing.
For planning and environment cases, fill in the Statement of Service form attached to your order. You need to send this to us by the date we give you in the order we sent you.
If we don’t receive the form by the date we give you, your application can’t progress and may be ‘struck out’ or cancelled. If it’s struck out, you can apply for it to be reinstated.
See also: What’s my VCAT reference number?
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 (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.
- 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 do I bring to VCAT?
When you come to a VCAT hearing and give evidence at VCAT you need to support what you say with originals of documents.
You must bring these documents with you on the day - you can’t give us new evidence after we make a decision.
Bring copies of your documents for the member (the person who hears and decides cases) and the other people at the hearing. Both sides have a right to a fair hearing so you must show all your evidence to the other people involved in the case. Depending on the type of case, the documents you need could be:
- affidavits, statutory declarations and witness statements
- condition reports, contracts, leases, bond receipts and rental records
- quotes, invoices and receipts
- expert reports
- business diaries and financial records
- letters and notes of conversations or meetings
- photographs and videos
- plans and drawings
- timesheets and job records
- reports from doctors
- reports from social workers and case managers.
If the dispute is about a product, bring it if it’s a manageable size. You can’t print documents at VCAT but you can make photocopies for a small fee.
Bring a mask if you need to come to one of our venues. Wearing a KN95 or surgical mask is a condition of entry, unless you have a medical exemption.
What’s expert evidence?
When you present your case at VCAT you can include evidence from experts to support your side of the story.
An expert report is a written report from an expert that a party uses as evidence in a VCAT case.
The expert must provide an impartial opinion based on their area of expertise. They must make an oath that their report is written to the best of their knowledge and expertise.
Any party in a VCAT case can organise and submit an expert report as evidence. For example:
- a person involved in a dispute about house renovations may ask a building consultant to provide an expert report
- in a planning case, a party (including objectors) may ask for a report from an aborist or heritage architect
The expert is generally expected to come to the hearing to explain key elements of the report. It allows the member and the parties to ask questions about the report. We tell you if we don’t expect the expert to attend, or you can ask us whether they need to come to VCAT.