Small Claims (ACT)

In the ACT, small civil claims where the amount of money or property in dispute is less than $25,000 can be made in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT). These claims may be made with or without legal representation. This page deals with the processes involved in making small claims in the ACT.


Claims to ACAT are governed by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008.  

Types of small claims

An application can be made to ACAT in the following types of matters:


While ACAT has jurisdiction to hear small claims for up to $25,000. If a party wants to claim more than the jurisdictional limit for ACAT, the claim should be made in the Magistrates Court.

The Magistrates Court has jurisdiction to hear civil disputes involving up to $250,000. Claims for more than $250,000 are heard in the Supreme Court.

Try to resolve the dispute directly

Before a party files a claim with ACAT, they should attempt to resolve the dispute informally. This may be able to be done by communicating with the other party directly, or with the support of a mediator.

A dispute that is dealt with informally is generally resolved quicker and with less expense than one that goes to ACAT or to a court. There is also the added benefit that resolving a dispute informally may allow the parties to preserve a working relationship.

Letter of demand

If you have been unsuccessful in obtaining payment or money that is owed to you and you are considering making a claim to ACAT, you should first send the other party a letter of demand. This is a formal letter that sets out what is owed, who is responsible for paying the debt and the date payment is required.

A letter of demand should have all supporting material attached, including invoices and any previous correspondence. The letter should make it clear that legal action will be initiated if payment is not received by the nominated date.

Making a claim

If the situation cannot be resolved and a claim needs to be made, this is done by filing an application setting out the details of the dispute and the orders sought. The application should have supporting documentation attached, including the letter of demand. The application should be filed with ACAT. A fee will need to be paid unless you are eligible for an exemption.

The application will then need to be served on the respondent.

Responding to a claim

If you are the respondent in a small claim, you will need to file a response and lodge it with the tribunal unless ACAT advises you that this is not necessary.

If you do not file a response, a default judgment may be made against you.

A response may admit liability, dispute the claim, or admit part of the claim. In some situations, a respondent may also wish to file a counterclaim. This can be included on the response form.

If no response is filed, the applicant may apply for default judgment.  Default judgment may be granted in chambers or the applicant may be required to attend an assessment hearing.

Disputed cases

When a response is filed and the case is disputed, ACAT may schedule the matter for a:

  • conference;
  • conference and evaluation;
  • conference and immediate determination;
  • directions hearing; or
  • short hearing.

If no agreement is reached at the conference, parties will have to attend a hearing. At the hearing, evidence and submissions from both parties will be heard. The tribunal member will then make a decision which will be enforceable by the courts.


An ACAT decision may be appealed to the Appeal Tribunal within 28 days of the date of the decision. A decision by the Appeal Tribunal may be appeal to the Supreme Court with the Supreme Court’s leave.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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