Conferencing is a method of resolving disputes used by many tribunals and courts in Australia. The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) uses conferencing to try and assist parties to resolve disputes quickly and easily without the need to proceed to the next step, which is a formal hearing.
There are a few reasons you may be advised about a conference at ACAT.
- You or the landlord/agent have made an application to the ACAT to try and resolve dispute or,
- You or the landlord/agent have submitted a bond refund form with just your signature on it to the Office of Rental Bonds (ORB). The ORB has sent the form to the other party, and they have responded that they do not agree with the amount claimed on the form. The Office of Rental Bonds has then forwarded the dispute to the ACAT for resolution.
During a conference, a Registrar (and employee of the ACAT with some special powers) or facilitator will meet with both parties to discuss the application and see if the parties can come to an agreement themselves.
The objective of the conference is to:
- identify the facts that both parties agree on and which facts they do not agree on;
- define what are the real issues in dispute;
- ensure that the parties have made all necessary efforts to resolve the dispute;
- actively assist the parties to resolve the dispute; and
- assess the time and requirements for a hearing, if that is necessary.
The Registrar may set deadlines for things to be completed (such as written submissions or providing further evidence like quotes or photos) and suggest ways to help the matter resolve as quickly as possible. The Registrar should be impartial and not provide you with legal advice.
In some circumstances you will not have a conference and you will proceed directly to the hearing stage. This is where a Member of the ACAT (similar to a judge) will assess your claim and make a decision that all parties must comply with. If this occurs, see our FAQ on hearings here.
Representation at conferences
You do not have to be represented by a lawyer (most people are not), but you can take a support person such as a friend or family member with you.
I need an interpreter!
Unfortunately in tenancy matters the ACAT does not arrange for interpreters. You should generally make your own arrangements. The Telephone Interpreter Service (TIS) can be contacted on 131 450 or through their website.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of conferencing?
From the Magistrates Court website:
Conferencing is a free service that allows parties to understand each other’s issues. It allows the parties to ask questions and understand the process. It also resolves a high amount of disputes by way of agreement, reducing the number of matters that need to go before a court or tribunal
However, sometimes conferences are not appropriate, particularly where one or both parties do not have all the information needed to make an informed decision. In this situation there are a few things you can do:
- get advice before you go to the conference – you can call the Tenants Advice Service or read through the factsheets on our website.
- try to get as much relevant information from the landlord/agent before the conference as you can – make a written request for any relevant photos, invoices, receipts etc.
- if you cannot get the information before the conference, ask the agent/landlord to present it on the day – you can then ask the Registrar or facilitator for time to consider the documents.
- remember that you do not have to reach a settlement if you are not comfortable with the suggestions for resolution that are made, or have doubts about the landlord/agents claims.
The Registrar will often be very keen to get you to resolve the dispute, but if you feel there is a good reason to have the dispute decided by an impartial Member of the ACAT, you are entitled to a hearing.
It may also be inappropriate to have a conference where one party is seeking termination of the tenancy, or where the dispute has involved harassment or intimidation by either or both parties. If you feel uncomfortable attending a conference you can:
- take a support person, and/or
- you can request that the conference be conducted with the parties in separate rooms (known as shuttle conferencing)
Remember that even if you do not resolve the dispute at the conference, you can still try and resolve the dispute privately with the landlord/agent. Alternatively you can contact the Conflict Resolution Service to see if they can assist you to resolve the issue with the help of a professional mediator.
What if I can’t attend the conference?
If you cannot attend the conference on the date specified, please see our FAQ on adjournments here.