Small Claims (NT)

In the Northern Territory, small claims are dealt with by the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT). Small claims are civil disputes where the amount of money or goods and services at issue is less than $25,000. They are governed by the Small Claims Act 2016. This page outlines the process for making a small claim and when such a claim can be made.

Limitation period

A small claim must be made within three years of the date that the money was owed, or the work was due to be completed. If the party that owed the money confirms the debt within that three-year period, the three-year period starts again.

Types of small claims

Under section 6 of the Small Claims Act 2016, NTCAT can hear disputes about:

  • the recovery of an amount of money;
  • the performance of work;
  • relief from payment of an amount of money;
  • the return or replacement of goods.

Try to resolve the dispute first

Before making a small claim, parties should try to resolve the situation informally. This could be done by talking to the other party directly or with the assistance of a mediator. Mediators help parties to see each other’s point of view, consider ways the dispute could be resolved and come to an agreement.

Mediation can be quicker and cheaper than going to court. It may also resolve a disagreement while preserving the relationship between the parties.

Before making a small claim

A small claim can be made by a company or business, or by an individual.

The person who is making a claim for money owed, faulty goods or poor or incorrect services should send the other party a letter setting out what the problem is, who is responsible, what the party wants done to fix it and a timeframe (usually 14 days) for this to occur. This is known as a letter of demand.

The letter of demand must be accurate and contain all the relevant information. If payment is not received within the timeframe specified, the letter of demand will need to be included with the claim that is filed in court.

Initiating application

If your dispute cannot be resolved out of court, a small claim can be commenced. This is done by filing an Initiating Application setting out all the details of the claim and the orders sought. You will have to pay a filing fee and organize for the Application to be served on the respondent.

The respondent can offer to pay all or part of the claim or they can defend the claim. If they choose to defend the claim, the matter will proceed through the below procedural stages.


Parties will be required to attend a conference to establish what issues are in dispute and whether the matter can be settled. If a settlement is negotiated, ordered will be made giving it effect. If no settlement is negotiated, orders and directions will be made for the matter to proceed to a hearing.

Directions hearing

A hearings hearing may also be convened to make orders about future steps that need to be taken. A directions hearing is a brief mention that may result in procedural orders such as an order that parties must serve their evidence on one another.


If a matter proceeds to a hearing, each party will be asked to present their case and make submissions. A hearing before NTCAT is different to a court hearing in that NTCAT is not bound by the rules of evidence. NTCAT is, however, bound by the principles of procedural fairness.

Witnesses in NTCAT hearing may give their evidence orally or in the form of affidavits. Parties will usually be allowed to cross-examine the other party’s witnesses. The tribunal member may also ask questions.

Parties to small claims matters represent themselves. A party is only permitted to have legal representation at a small claims matter if they have leave from NTCAT.

The tribunal member will make a decision that takes into account the evidence that has been heard. The decision may be given on the spot or at a later date (within 28 days of the hearing).

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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