Does someone owe you money? A guide to help you claim a minor debt of $25,000 or less.
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This guide is intended to provide you with information only. If you have a legal problem, you should get legal advice from a lawyer. Legal Aid Queensland believes the information provided is accurate as at April 2022 and does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions.
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How can this guide help me?
This guide provides general information about how to recover a debt of $25,000 or less-known as a minor debt.
The minor debt application process provides a quick and affordable way to help you collect what you are owed. You can do it yourself, without using a lawyer. This guide tells you:
- how to claim the money back you are owed
- the procedure you will go through to collect your debt if you go to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT)
- how to fill in the forms you will need.
What is a minor debt?
A minor debt is when someone owes you $25,000 or less and you know exactly the amount they owe. A minor debt can be:
- a sum of money you lent to another person
- an ‘I owe you’ or ‘IOU’ note
- a cheque that was not cleared because the writer of the cheque did not have enough funds to cover it
- the cost of work done under a written or verbal contract.
Do not use this guide if:
- someone owes you more than $25,000
- your application is not for a fixed amount
- you are a consumer having problems with a trader about goods or services (refer to Legal Aid Queensland’s Consumer and trader disputes guide)
- you are in conflict with another trader about goods or services
- you have a claim against a builder for losses associated with residential building work
- you have a dispute about a bond held by the Residential Tenancies Authority
- you are claiming unpaid wages as an employee under the Fair Work Act.
The QCAT has other processes for these claims. For more information visit their website www.qcat.qld.gov.au or call 1300 753 228. Mobile phone users can call (07) 3182 5181.
Do I need to get legal advice?
It can sometimes be difficult to know whether your claim is a minor debt. If you are unsure get legal advice from:
- Legal Aid Queensland – call 1300 65 11 88 (for the cost of a local call from a landline). Mobile phone users can call (07) 3182 5181. Legal Aid Queensland is focused on providing legal advice to financially disadvantaged Queenslanders. To find out more visit www.legalaid.qld.gov.au
- a community legal centre – go to www.legalaid.qld.gov.au or call 1300 65 11 88 to check services in your area
- a private lawyer – call the Queensland Law Society on 1300 367 757 for names of lawyers who can help.
Before you make a minor debt application
If you can settle the case without starting proceedings you will save yourself a lot of time, energy and possibly money.
Before you apply to QCAT, talk to the other person or business involved in the dispute to try to solve the problem. If the two of you need help to work out an agreement, there is a free mediation service provided by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General’s Dispute Resolution Branch.
The Dispute Resolution Branch has centres throughout the state, where trained mediators bring the people in a dispute together so they can talk over their differences and reach a settlement that suits them both. In regional areas where there is no Dispute Resolution Centre, staff at the local Magistrates Courts act as mediators.
Dispute Resolution Centres:
- Far North Queensland Dispute Resolution Centre (07) 4037 2600 or 1800 671 680 (toll free outside Cairns)
- North Queensland Dispute Resolution Centre (07) 4417 8141 or 1800 809 605 (toll free outside Townsville)
- Mackay-Whitsundays Dispute Resolution Centre (07) 4889 8402 or 1800 501 576 (toll free outside Mackay)
- Central Queensland Dispute Resolution Centre (07) 4887 1760 or 1800 817 927 (toll free outside Rockhampton)
- Wide Bay Dispute Resolution Centre (07) 4120 6708 or 1800 681 109 (toll free outside Hervey Bay)
- South Queensland Dispute Resolution Centre (07) 3738 7000 or 1800 017 288 (toll free outside Brisbane)
If you choose to make an application to the tribunal, you must determine the correct respondent for the application. Check this thoroughly because if you get it wrong, your application will fail. If you are in any doubt, get legal advice.
Who do I make an application against?
The person who makes a minor debt application claim is called the ‘applicant’ and the person or business the application is made against is called the ‘respondent’.
If the respondent is an individual (not a company or business), determine the person’s correct full name and the address where they live. A post office box number is not enough. You need to name the respondent and their address in your application.
The person you dealt with may have been working for someone else. In that case, you must work out whether it is the business owner or a company that you have to make an application against.
If you are suing a business, you will need to find out the correct trading name for the firm and the names and addresses of all the owners of the firm. Check the trading name in letters, quotes, advertisements or receipts to make sure it is correct. If in doubt, do a search through the Australian Securities and Investment Commission’s (ASIC) Organisations and Business Names database at www.asic.gov.au. You can search some information for free, while other more detailed information is available for a fee.
In the ‘respondents’ section of your application form, list all the business owners’ names “trading as” the business’s trading name.
For example, if you are making an application against plumber Jo Bloggs whose business trades as Bloggies Plumbing, in the respondents section of your application form you would write Jo Bloggs “trading as” Bloggies Plumbing.
If you are suing a company (note: companies have “Ltd”, “Pty” or “Pty Ltd” at the end of their company name) you need to find out the full and correct name of the company, its registered address and Australian Company Number (ACN). You must state the ACN on the claim form, so it is important to get this right. If in doubt, do a search through the ASIC.
Basic information is available by searching the free registers online at www.asic.gov.au/search. More detailed information is available from an ASIC Service Centre or an information broker (a search fee usually applies). To find one in your area go to www.asic.gov.au or call 1300 300 630.
In the ‘respondents’ section of your application form, list the company name and Australian Business Number (ABN) and the registered company address of the company you are claiming against.
How to make a minor debt application
Step 1. Fill out a minor debt claim form
You can pick up a QCAT Form 3 - Application for minor civil dispute - minor debt from the QCAT Brisbane registry, your local Magistrates Court or download it from the QCAT website www.qcat.qld.gov.au/resources/forms. You can see a sample of this form in samples.
Type your answers into the form or print neatly in black or blue pen. Make copies of the completed form.
You will need one copy for the tribunal, one copy for you and one copy for each respondent. Photocopies are acceptable, but you must sign the form before you copy it.
Where there is a space on the form for the orders (decisions) you are seeking, state your claim and the amount you are claiming in one or two sentences.
Where there is a space to state your reasons for seeking those orders, explain your demand fully and simply. Do not make emotional remarks, but rather present the facts about who did what, where and when. Make sure you explain clearly what the respondent agreed to and what they failed to do, as well as how you arrived at the amount of the minor debt. You can provide further details on a separate sheet and attach it to your application. Sign each sheet of paper at the bottom.
To recover a debt:
- Write down who you lent the money to, and the date you lent the money.
- Briefly explain why you lent the money.
- Explain when the money was to be paid back, and if there were any conditions such as interest to be paid.
- Write the date you requested payment.
- Write the date and amount of any payments you have received.
Step 2. Lodge your forms and pay a fee
Give or send the original and copies of the form including any attachments to the QCAT registry. Pay the tribunal's application fee. The registry staff will stamp your forms and give them a number. A scale of fees is available on the QCAT website or by phoning the QCAT registry on 1300 753 228.
The tribunal will give you one copy back of the stamped forms (called a sealed copy) for each respondent.
You may be eligible for a waiver of fees. To apply for a waiver of fees you will need to complete a Form 49 - Application for waiver of fees by reason of financial hardship. You can get this form from the registry or download it from the QCAT website.
Where do I lodge my application?
If you are in Brisbane you can lodge your form in the Brisbane registry at:
QCAT Level 11 259 Queen Street Brisbane Qld 4000
If you are outside of Brisbane, you can lodge your form with your local Magistrates Court.
To find your nearest Magistrates Court, look under "Justice and Attorney-General" in the phone book or visit www.courts.qld.gov.au
Step 3. Notify the other person about your application
You must deliver (serve) a copy of the filed application to the respondent. You need to arrange to have one of the stamped copies of the application forms delivered to the person or business you are claiming against as soon as possible. This is called 'serving the papers'.
You can do this yourself, but it is often better to pay a private process server or enforcement officer from the Magistrates Court to do it for you.
The QCAT website contains a practice direction for service of documents that explains the procedure if you want to personally serve a document on the respondent(s) yourself. A practice direction is a guideline that provides more information on a specific issue involved with QCAT applications and proceedings.
You can find a process server by:
- asking at the Magistrates Court registry
- looking in the Yellow Pages or other business directories.
How much will it cost to make a claim?
Check the filing fee with the QCAT registry or on the QCAT website www.qcat.qld.gov.au
If you win your case the tribunal can order you be reimbursed for the cost of:
- lodging the application
- hiring a process server
- business name or company search fee
- service fee or service provider fee for electronic lodgement.
In some instances the tribunal can make an order about the legal costs of a lawyer. Usually you need permission from the tribunal to have a lawyer represent you and orders permitting representation are only made in very limited circumstances.
Can I claim interest on the debt?
You can claim interest on the debt at the interest rate agreed on in the original contract, or at a rate the tribunal determines. You should get legal advice about how interest is calculated.
After you have lodged your application
When the respondent chooses to defend themselves
The respondent might not agree with your case and decide to argue their side of the story.
They have 28 days from the date they were served with your form to lodge their response to your application at the QCAT registry or their local Magistrates Court.
To do this they will need to prepare and file a QCAT Form 7 — Response to minor civil dispute — minor debt, which is available on the QCAT website. You can see a sample of this form in samples.
In a response, the other party outlines facts that try to disprove the original application. For example, you stated “the contract is a written document dated 1 July 2021”, the other party may say “I deny the contract was a written document dated 1 July 2021 because the copy of the contract is signed and dated 1 July 2020”.
If the respondent doesn’t respond within 28 days
Wait 28 days after the application has been served on the respondent, then call the tribunal to see if the respondent has filed a response. If they have not filed a response, the tribunal can make an order without hearing the evidence from the respondent. This is called a default decision.
To ask for a default decision (also called a judgment), lodge the following forms:
- Form 6 – Request for a decision by default – minor civil dispute – minor debt (see sample in samples)
- Affidavit of service (or Part B of the Form 6)
- Affidavit in support of a request for a decision by default (see sample form in samples).
If the respondent has made any payments after you lodged your application, make that clear in your Affidavit in support of a request for a decision by default.
If the tribunal makes an order, they will send a copy of the order to you and the respondent.
You should send the respondent a copy of the order and ask for immediate payment. If the respondent still does not pay the debt, you have enforcement options. You should get legal advice about this.
Reaching an agreement
Even after you have lodged an application, it is never too late to reach agreement. Reaching agreement may save both sides time, money and inconvenience.
In most cases, if your application involves $1500 or less, your matter will proceed directly to a hearing.
If your application involves more than $1500, both parties (you and the respondent) will then receive a notice to attend mediation. The notice includes the date, time and location of mediation. The aim of mediation is to get all parties to reach an agreement.
If your matter is not settled at mediation then it will proceed to a hearing.
If you do settle the matter, your mediator will help you to advise the tribunal and confirm the terms of the agreement in writing.
Going to mediation
After you have lodged your application you will receive a notice to attend mediation. The aim of the mediation is to find a solution to the dispute without proceeding to a hearing.
How should I prepare for mediation?
You need to bring every document, invoice, receipt, quotation or other piece of evidence you are relying on and give them to the mediator at the mediation.
Make sure you are organised and have evidence to support the main points of your argument.
Read the application and any documents attached to it.
It is a good idea to come to the mediation prepared to listen to the other party and to negotiate an agreement.
Attending by telephone or videoconference
If you want to participate by phone, contact the number or email address provided on the notice to attend mediation as soon as possible.
Alternatively, complete, sign and file an Application to attend a proceeding by telephone or video. This form can also be used to attend any later hearing remotely by telephone or video. You can get a copy of the form from the QCAT website www.qcat.qld.gov.au/resources/forms
Attending in person
Ensure you arrive at least 15 minutes before the start time outlined in the notice of mediation. The other party will be there too.
Find your name or case number on the electronic listing board or list displayed in the registry. Go to the room that has been set aside for your case.
You will be invited into the room once the mediator (the person responsible for conducting the mediation) is ready. The mediation may be conducted by a QCAT mediator or mediator from the Dispute Resolution Centre (established by the Queensland Government to provide a free, confidential and impartial mediation services).
What happens during the mediation?
The mediator will introduce themself and ask everyone to introduce themselves. Generally the mediation is held in private and the length of the mediation will depend on the complexity of the matter.
The discussions during the mediation cannot be used or referred to at the hearing unless the parties agree.
Be clear and to the point. Do not interrupt the other party or the mediator.
If you do not behave appropriately, you may be removed from the mediation.
The mediator acts as an independent third party and guides the participants through a structured mediation process. The mediator is not there to make a decision about who is right or wrong, but assists both parties in reaching an agreement.
What happens after the mediation?
If the parties reach an agreement the mediator may record the terms of the agreement in writing and make the orders necessary to give effect to the agreement. Each party will then sign the mediation agreement and receive a copy.
A party may request the agreement be made an order of the tribunal. An order is a decision made by QCAT which requires someone to do something (for example, it may require a person to repay a debt).
If you cannot reach an agreement the mediator will work with you to set out what issues are still in dispute and what issues have been resolved. If the parties agree, this will be given to the tribunal for the hearing.
Going to the hearing
Both parties will receive a notice of hearing which includes the time, date and location of the hearing. Be aware that a number of matters will be set for the same timeslot, and you should make sure you allow enough time to attend the hearing.
The aim of the hearing is to make a final decision about your case.
It is generally in your best interest to come to the hearing if the application has been made against you. If you do not attend the hearing, the tribunal may hear and decide the matter anyway, and an order may be made against you.
At the hearing you will tell the member or adjudicator your story. Although the hearing is informal, you are expected to tell your story clearly, in proper sequence, and with enough detail to explain your case.
How should I prepare for the hearing?
You need to give the tribunal all the relevant documents that help support the main points of your case. You need to bring any documents, invoices, receipts, quotations and/or other pieces of evidence you need to prove your case, and give them to the member or adjudicator at the hearing. You should make two copies of any documents you intend to give to the tribunal and have a copy for yourself and one for the other party.
Write down the facts and supporting evidence
The QCAT member or adjudicator makes a decision by listening to the facts and looking at the evidence. Knowing the difference between facts and evidence will help you present your case clearly.
It may help to take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, write the facts you want to tell the member or adjudicator. On the right side write the evidence you will use to support your facts.
|2 February 2021. Respondent called at my home. I agreed to lend her money.
Own sworn evidence.
Bank cover of cheque book showing notes about repayment.
|2 February 2021. Paid $1500 to the respondent.
Own sworn evidence.
Evidence of flatmate Fred Jones who was present.
Copy of cheque butt dated 2 February 2021.
Evidence can be written (in the form of sworn statements called affidavits), or verbal (when you or your witnesses give statements in the witness box).
Your own evidence, in your own words, is always helpful to your case.
You can ask relevant witnesses who can support your case, to attend the hearing. If they are reluctant, you can apply to the tribunal to compel them to attend by serving a QCAT Form 38 — Witness hearing notices: application for notice requiring witness to attend hearing or produce document/thing at hearing. This is a notice from the tribunal demanding they attend the hearing (see sample in samples) or produce documents that could be used as evidence.
If your witness is reluctant, and forced to attend the hearing through the notice to attend, this action may upset them and in turn they may not give helpful evidence. So weigh this up carefully before you initiate a notice.
Only QCAT can order a person to attend a hearing or to produce documents by issuing an attendance notice. QCAT may charge a fee for this service. If a person is willing to attend or produce a document you do not need to apply to QCAT.
The witness does not have to attend unless you give them sufficient money to pay their costs of attending, for example money to cover their reasonable transport costs.
Practice your presentation
It can help to practice what you want to say in front of family and friends. Have your documents in order so that when you mention one it is ready to show at the right time. If you mention an important fact a witness can support, say you have a witness who can talk about this matter later. Have any evidence or photographs labelled and ready to show at the right time.
Listen to what your friends say. If your story is too long, cut out unnecessary details. If listeners cannot understand a point, put in details to make it clear.
What do I do on the day of the hearing?
Before you arrive
- Find out the tribunal’s address and check the location on a map.
- Organise transport to the tribunal, allowing time to arrive half an hour before the hearing.
- Look clean, neat and respectable.
- Bring all of your documents including the application form, affidavits and other evidence.
- Bring a pen and some note paper to record anything you might want to remember later to say to the member or adjudicator when the appropriate moment arises. It is ok to read from notes in the hearing room.
- As hearing rooms can feel daunting, especially the first time, you may appreciate the support of a friend or family member. Ask them to attend the tribunal with you.
When you arrive
- Meet your witnesses outside the tribunal at least 15 minutes before your scheduled hearing time.
- Find your name or case number on the electronic listing board or list displayed in the registry.
- Wait for your hearing outside the hearing room.
- You will be called into the hearing room when the member or adjudicator is ready to begin.
When you are called
- Speak clearly and follow the member or adjudicator’s instructions.
- Address the member or adjudicator as “Sir” or “Madam”; address a judge or magistrate as “Your Honour”.
- The member or adjudicator may ask if there is any chance you and the respondent could reach an agreement about your dispute. If the answer is yes, then you will be directed outside to negotiate privately with the other person.
- If you reach an agreement the member or adjudicator will record the terms of the agreement.
- If you cannot reach an agreement the hearing will continue before the member or adjudicator.
What happens at the hearing?
You tell your story and present your evidence
- Before you tell the member or adjudicator your side of the story, you will be asked to swear an oath or affirm (promise) to tell the truth. It is a crime to give false evidence before the tribunal.
- The member or adjudicator may ask you questions during your presentation.
- When you have finished, the respondent can ask you questions.
Your witnesses give their evidence
- Witnesses wait outside the hearing room until they are called one at a time. Each witness is required to swear an oath or affirm to tell the truth. You can then ask your witness questions. For example, if the witness is there to support your story that you loaned Mary Johanssen $9500 you could ask: “Do you remember when Mary Johanssen came to my house to ask for a loan? Can you tell the tribunal what happened?”.
- The member or adjudicator may question your witnesses at any time while they provide their evidence.
- When you and the member or adjudicator have finished questioning the witnesses, the respondent may also question them.
The respondent provides their evidence
- When all your witnesses have finished giving their evidence, the respondent will take an oath or affirm to tell the truth and give their side of the story.
- The member or adjudicator can question the respondent at any time. You may not interrupt but you should take notes about anything you disagree with so you can raise this with them when you are asking your questions.
- When the respondent finishes their side of the story, you can ask them questions.
The respondent’s witnesses provide their evidence
- The respondent’s witnesses will be called into the hearing room one at a time to give their evidence.
- The respondent may question the witnesses at any time while they provide their evidence.
- When the member or adjudicator and the respondent have finished questioning the respondent’s witnesses, you may also question them.
What if the hearing takes place and I (or the respondent) could not attend?
You should make every attempt to attend the hearing date and time scheduled by the tribunal. If circumstances that prevent you from attending the hearing arise before the scheduled hearing date, advise the tribunal by fax, email or in writing as soon as possible. The respondent can also take this action. If you have a sound reason the tribunal may adjourn the hearing. A sound reason would have to be something like a medical emergency where circumstances were beyond your control.
If the hearing has already taken place, ask the tribunal for a Form 43 — Application for reopening, correction, renewal or amendment.
The member’s or adjudicator’s decision
After hearing everyone’s evidence, the member or adjudicator will make a decision. The member or adjudicator might:
- agree with your case
- agree with the respondent’s case
- agree with only part of your case.
After the member or adjudicator has made a decision, they will make an order you and the respondent must follow.
After the order is made
If the tribunal orders the respondent to pay the debt (in whole or in part) but the respondent does not follow the order, you can enforce the order in the Magistrates Court.
You need to file in the Magistrates Court a copy of the order that has been made by QCAT and an affidavit about the amount still owing. If any money has already been paid off the amount owing under the order, you will need to tell the Magistrates Court about that in the affidavit.
Once you have lodged these documents in the Magistrates Court, the decision is taken to be an order of the Magistrates Court and can be enforced in the same way as an order of the Magistrates Court.
You will need to get legal advice about enforcement.
Can I appeal the decision?
Before you can appeal a QCAT minor debt decision you must ask for permission from the QCAT internal appeal tribunal to appeal the decision. To ask permission you will need to submit a Form 39 — Application for leave to appeal or appeal. You can get a copy of this form from the QCAT registry or the QCAT website.
You should get legal advice before seeking leave to appeal any decision.
Sample documents and forms
Sample 1: Application for minor civil dispute—minor debt(PDF, 726KB)
Sample 2: Response to minor civil dispute—minor debt(PDF, 473KB)
Sample 3: Affidavit in support of a request for a decision by default(PDF, 390KB)
Sample 4: Request for decision by default—minor civil dispute—minor debt(PDF, 578KB)
Sample 5: Witness hearing notices: application for notice requiring witness to attend a hearing or produce document/thing at a hearing(PDF, 433KB)
Legal words and phrases explained
We have described these words as we use them in this guide. If you are still not sure what a certain term means, get legal advice.
Adjudicator — a decision maker of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Affidavit — a statement sworn under oath in the presence of a commissioner of declarations, justice of the peace or a lawyer.
Affirm (affirmation) — a spoken declaration where you promise to tell the truth when giving information or evidence to the tribunal or writing it in an affidavit. You can make an affirmation if you do not want to swear an oath on a Bible or other sacred book.
Applicant — a person who makes an application to the tribunal.
Contract — an agreement between two people, which the law recognises as legally binding.
Dispute resolution — a procedure designed to resolve disputes between people. It usually involves people working out their difference in a non-court setting with an independent mediator helping them to come to an agreement.
Evidence — the proof needed to support your side of the story. Evidence is usually given verbally in the tribunal.
Filing documents — see Lodging documents.
Hearing — where evidence is given to the tribunal from all people involved in a case and a decision is made.
Justice of the peace — a person recognised by law who helps with the legal process by witnessing documents and other duties. This is the person you must ask to witness you signing your affidavit.
Legal costs — the costs involved in taking a case to the tribunal, such as the costs of lawyers and the cost of filing documents with the tribunal.
Lodging documents — the process where documents are received and accepted by the tribunal. The person lodging the documents may need to pay an application fee. Usually the tribunal will stamp its seal on the filed document.
Magistrate — the name for the decision maker in the Magistrates Court. You call the magistrate ‘Your Honour’.
Magistrates Court — the Magistrates Court deals with civil claims up to $150,000.
Mediation — a dispute resolution process run by an independent third person, who helps people to reach agreement through the process of discussion and negotiation, without entering into the content of the dispute.
Member — a decision maker of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Oath — ‘taking the oath’ means swearing on the Bible or other sacred book that you will tell or have told the truth. If you do not believe in the Bible or other sacred book, you can affirm that the content of the affidavit is true.
Order — an order is made by the tribunal requiring a person to do something, eg repay a debt.
Party — a person involved in the dispute, eg the applicant (you) and the respondent.
Process server — a person who delivers or ‘serves’ tribunal documents by handing them to the person concerned.
Respondent — the person or business you have a claim against.
Served — the process where a person is presented with official tribunal documents.
Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) — a tribunal dealing with minor debts of $25,000 or less, disputes of $25,000 or less between consumers and traders, or traders and traders, motor vehicle property damage claims, tenancy disputes and disputes under the Manufactured Homes (Residential Parks) Act 2003 .
Trader — a person, or business entity, who carries on a business of supplying goods or services and is not regarded as a professional (for example, doctors, dentists and lawyers are professionals).
Witness — a person who saw or heard something about your case and is called to give this evidence before the tribunal.
Last updated 13 July 2022
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