There are many things that can be done by consumers to resolve a breach of contract. Making a complaint, standing your ground and demanding remedy at the earliest opportunity is the most important first step. After that, courts, tribunals and ombudsmen can help resolve disputes.

Contributor

Gerard Brody

CEO, Consumer Action Law Centre

Court or tribunal help

Last updated

1 July 2020

When a breach of contract occurs, there are, in contract law and legislation, general remedies (see ‘Court remedies’, below) available by application to the most appropriate court or tribunal for your particular case. Different courts or tribunals deal with different matters depending on the amount of money involved and, in some instances, the subject matter of the dispute and the relevant legislation. Generally, it remains for you to work out which court or tribunal is the appropriate place to hear your complaint. You may need to seek legal advice to help you decide this.

The Civil Claims List of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) may hear and determine a ‘consumer and trader dispute’ under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 (Vic) (s 184). A ‘consumer and trader dispute’ is a dispute arising between a supplier or possible supplier and a purchaser or possible purchaser in relation to the supply or possible supply of goods or services (s 182). VCAT has unlimited jurisdiction (i.e. claims for any amount) under this section. However, VCAT will treat ‘small claims’ where the amount involved in the dispute is less than $15 000 more informally, for example, with respect to costs and legal representation (for further details, see ‘Small claims: VCAT’s Civil Claims List’, below). VCAT is not as expensive as the courts and is generally very effective in resolving many consumer problems.

Jurisdiction over consumer credit

Since 1 July 2010, VCAT has not had jurisdiction over consumer credit under the Consumer Credit (Victoria) Act 1995 (Vic). The National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (Cth) gives jurisdiction over consumer credit only to the federal courts, and external dispute resolution schemes. (For more information, see Chapter 5.7: Understanding credit and finance.)

Actions relating to a breach of contract may also be commenced in the Magistrates, County, Supreme or Federal Court, depending on the amount of money involved and the relevant legislation.

Another alternative is to submit the dispute to arbitration or mediation.

Courts and VCAT now operate a mediation system in some circumstances. For further details, see ‘Magistrates’ Court: Arbitration’ and ‘Mediation’ in Chapter 1.2: An introduction to the courts. For disputes in the County, Supreme and federal courts, a court-approved mediator is appointed, when appropriate, prior to the hearing. Even when court proceedings are referred to a mediator, the court will retain power to order remedies. If the mediation fails, the court will proceed to hear the matter.

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