Nobody likes getting letters of demand from lawyers or, worse still, visits and calls from debt collectors. But if you dispute a bill from any service business or tradesperson, and the matter can’t be resolved informally, this is where you are normally headed. Once things move to court proceedings you will be identified as the defendant – the guy who doesn’t want to pay their bills – and you are already substantially on the back foot. It all seems so unfair when it’s them that’s done an unsatisfactory job or tried to gouge you for extra dollars in their bill.
Fortunately it doesn’t have to be this way. The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT), in its Minor Civil Disputes jurisdiction has a power in relation to consumer and trader matters, and indeed matters between two traders, to make an order that ‘a stated amount is not due and owing by the applicant to a stated person’. Basically it’s an order that you don’t owe them money, or you don’t owe as much as they say you do. Of course QCAT might decide you do owe the money, but at least you will know!
As usual there are limits. QCAT can only look at matters up to $25,000. The definitions make it clear that professionals like accountants, dentists and lawyers aren’t ‘traders’. But apart from that it’s a great way to get on the front foot and resolve the issue with as little cost and angst as possible.
Julian Porter is Principal Solicitor of Suncoast Community Legal Service.
This column contains legal information only. Legal advice should be sought in relation to individual circumstances.