Resolving business disputes

Disputes arise from time to time as part of doing business. They can 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. While you should try to resolve disputes yourself, sometimes you may need to seek help from others.

Steps to resolving business disputes

There are 5 common steps to resolving business disputes.

Understand your legal requirements and check your contractual obligations carefully. There may be certain arrangements about how disputes must be addressed.

Identify the key issues behind the dispute. Keep track of 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.

Good communication is key (both over the phone or face to face). Stay calm and make a genuine effort to work with the other party to resolve the dispute amicably.

It's in both of your interests to be prepared to negotiate and compromise an agreement. Keep a written record of any discussions for future reference.

If you have negotiated an agreement, put it in writing using neutral terms that you both agreed to and understand. You should all sign the agreement and ensure everyone has a copy of the agreement signed by everyone (an executed copy).

If you are still in dispute, put your concerns in writing but ensure you stick to the undisputed facts, be reasonable and avoid blaming (or emotional) language. Allow the other party to consider your point of view and give them time to respond before you do anything else.

There is a range of assistance available to help small and medium-sized businesses resolve disputes. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) involves an independent third-party who works with both parties in dispute to help them find an amicable agreement. ADR is undertaken before going to a tribunal (e.g. the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal) or court.

The goal of ADR is to help you to find a solution that is agreeable to you both. This process may include informal assistance, mediation or other options.

Use our dispute assistance finder to understand which service you should contact to help with your dispute.

If your dispute is unresolved after seeking third party assistance, you should seek independent legal advice about your other options.

While some disputes may be heard by a tribunal or court, you should consider this carefully as it can be very expensive, time consuming and stressful.

Dispute assistance

Once you have made a genuine attempt to resolve a dispute using the steps above, you may be able to request assistance from a third party. In some disputes this may involve applying to a state or federal ombudsman or commissioner.

The service you choose will depend on the nature of your situation.

Use our dispute assistance finder to help you determine the most appropriate service for your situation and how you can seek help.

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.

The Queensland Small Business Commissioner (QSBC) may be able to assist tenants and landlords to informally resolve commercial lease disputes. You may also be able to access low cost mediation for eligible small business lease disputes and retail shop lease disputes.

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.

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

Body Corporate, Community Management and Strata Titles Schemes

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

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