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Resolving business disputes

Disputes arise from time to time as part of doing business. Disputes range in severity and, depending on the complexity, can cost time and money. Resolving business disputes quickly and efficiently is in everyone's best interest.

You may be able to resolve the dispute yourself, or you may need to involve an independent third party or dispute resolution service.

Steps to resolve business disputes

There are 5 common steps to resolving business disputes.

Step 1: Understand the dispute

Identify the key issues behind the dispute. Track events that happened before the dispute and try and clarify any misunderstandings. Read contractual obligations carefully to ensure you have understood the scope of what was agreed. Your contract may have specifically addressed how disputes must be resolved.

Step 2: Talk to the other party

Communication is key. Engage with the other party to try and resolve the dispute, either over the phone or face-to-face. Be prepared to negotiate and compromise. Keep a written record of any discussions for future reference.

Step 3: Write to the other party

Put your concerns in writing to allow the other party to resolve issues before you take further action.

Download example letter templates from the Queensland Small Business Commissioner to help outline your concerns:

Step 4: Ask for help from a third party

There is a range of assistance available to help small and medium-sized businesses resolve disputes (such as small business tenancy disputes and affected lease disputes).  You should always attempt to resolve the dispute yourself (using steps 1 to 3 above) before seeking assistance from a third party.

When direct negotiations fail, seeking assistance from an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service can help resolve disputes without costly and time-consuming legal action. ADR is undertaken before going to a tribunal (e.g. the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal) or court, and is generally quite successful.

In ADR, independent third-party mediators work with the parties to a dispute to help negotiate a settlement that is in everyone's interests. This is done in a way that encourages common sense, seeks practical solutions and helps to preserve business relationships.

ADR gives the parties to a dispute a confidential opportunity to work together to find an amicable agreement and removing the uncertainty that comes with more formal processes. When parties cannot achieve an agreed settlement, they retain the right to proceed with legal action.

If you have attempted to resolve the dispute by completing steps 1 to 3 above, you can now seek assistance with your dispute from a third party by using the dispute assistance referral tool.

Use our dispute resolution referral tool to understand which service you should contact to help with your dispute.

Step 5: Go to court or tribunal

If your dispute is unresolved after seeking third party assistance, you or the other party can choose to take the matter to a tribunal or court where a judge, jury or arbitrator will determine a decision.

Court processes are expensive and time consuming, so only do this as a last resort. You should seek your own independent financial and legal advice before making any decision.

Dispute assistance referral tool

Once you have made a genuine attempt to resolve a dispute using the steps above, you may be able to seek dispute assistance from a third party. Our dispute assistance referral tool will help you to determine the most appropriate services for your situation.

Business dispute resolution services

In some disputes, you may need to make a formal complaint via a state, federal or legal ombudsman service. Most ombudsman services provide support for lodging complaints, offering easy-to-follow online and help desk service steps.

The complaints office or avenue you choose will depend on the nature of the complaint.

Disputes between businesses

Disputes between supplier or competition businesses – such as misleading or deceptive conduct – are handled by the Office of Fair Trading.

View a list of consumer complaint dispute organisations that may help resolve your issue.

Disputes between commercial tenants and landlords

The Queensland Small Business Commissioner (QSBC) may be able to assist tenants and landlords to informally resolve commercial lease disputes. This may include free mediation for eligible small business tenancy disputes and affected lease disputes if you can demonstrate you have made a genuine attempt to resolve the dispute.

Disputes with suppliers

Disputes over the supply of goods and services are handled by the:

  • Office of Fair Trading – consumer protection and awareness services as well as services to regulate business conduct
  • Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) – consumer and trader disputes over contracts for the supply of goods and services such as:
    • repairing a defect in a motor vehicle
    • a claim by a consumer against a trader
    • a claim between suppliers and traders.

For disagreements with services providers, ask whether they have complaints handling policies and procedures in place to manage customer disputes.

External disputes

Disputes that do not involve trading activities – such as with commercial or retail landlords, government departments, statutory authorities, regulatory regimes and financial institutions – are handled by various government agencies.

Some government agencies and industry organisations provide alternative dispute resolution services aimed at specific business sectors.

Learn more about Australian industry ombudsmen and dispute resolution.

Australian airlines

Building and construction

Energy and water disputes

Finance, insurance and investment disputes

Franchise disputes

Leasing disputes

Legal disputes


Public agency disputes

Retail and wholesale disputes

Small business (general disputes)

Telecommunication disputes