An overview of a dispute resolution process

Most disputes can be resolved using a dispute resolution process similar to this:

1. Gather the facts

Make sure you know the details and understand the dispute so you can make informed decisions about the best way to try to resolve the dispute. Also consider the laws and regulations that apply.

2. Discuss the problem and negotiate a solution

Try discussing the issue to resolve the dispute first as this can avoid the matter ending up in a costly and time consuming legal dispute.

3. Put it in writing

Inform the other party of the issue in writing with reminder notices or a letter of concern. If they fail to produce a result, consider a letter of demand.

4. Seek assistance from a third party

Third parties can help you resolve a dispute, such as through mediation, conciliation, or arbitration. Or you can talk to your State or Territory's Fair Trading agency, or if necessary a debt collector.

5. Take the matter to court

Going to court over a dispute can be costly and time consuming, so it’s important that you get proper legal advice before taking this step.

What to do when you don’t get paid

If money is owed to your business and you are having trouble getting payment, there are processes that can help you recover the money.

It’s important to keep a record of all email, mail and phone communication throughout the process as it may be important if things escalate later.

1. Discuss the debt and research your rights and legal obligations

When recovering debt, it’s important to first let the other party know that there is outstanding debt.

  • Gather and understand all the facts about the unpaid debt and make sure you have all the details in writing.
  • You might try to talk to the person or business representative about the money that is owing, but make sure you know your legal obligations first.

2. Make a request for payment in writing

If contacting the person or business representative is unhelpful, you can put your requests in writing.

3. Take action to recover the debt

If you are still unable to get payment you can look at taking action to recover the debt:

Find out more:

  • Find out more about managing disputes over unpaid debt including more information about the processes and other useful resources available to you.
  • Learn about payment disputes in the building and construction industry.

Employee disputes

There are a number of disputes that can happen in the workplace, such as those around pay, leave, ending employment, harassment, or discrimination.

The best way to deal with employee and workplace disputes is to discuss the issue directly to negotiate and resolve problems as they arise. Being able to resolve a dispute through discussion and negotiation will save you the time and money of taking a dispute to court.

Where discussions are not possible or haven’t helped solve the issue, further help is available:

Preventing disputes

There are a number of things you can do to help prevent issues and disputes from arising in the first place.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Negotiate a good contract and get your agreements in writing so that both parties are clear on the details from the start. Include in your written agreements:

  • the goods or services to be provided
  • price
  • payment terms
  • timeframes
  • delivery terms
  • other terms or details.

Make sure all parties sign the agreement.

Make sure you know who you are dealing with. Look up the business’s ABN to see if the details there match the details they’ve provided you with. Call the business through their advertised number to make sure the person you’re dealing with is a true representative of that business.

If you have employees, it is a good idea to document job descriptions, performance policies and other workplace policies to communicate clearly to staff your expectations of them. Also look into training opportunities for you and your staff.

Find out more:

Where to get help resolving disputes

If you need help to resolve a dispute the following resources are available to you:

  • Find free or low cost legal advisory services in your area
  • See our information on getting help resolving disputes
  • Contact the fair trading authority in your area

Visit the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman website to:

If you have a dispute with a government agency and haven’t been able to reach a resolution with them, the Commonwealth Ombudsman may be able to assist you.