Small Claims Lawyers


Article Summary

In this article our debt recovery lawyers provide a comprehensive guide on small claims and minor debt recovery in Queensland, specifically focusing on the procedures and legal frameworks involved in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) and the Magistrates Court.

Small claims lawyers can assist with debt recovery for amounts up to $25,000 through QCAT, which offers a less expensive and quicker process compared to the Magistrates Court.

The article details the eligibility criteria for minor debt disputes, the application process for filing a QCAT claim, associated filing fees, and the service of documents. It also outlines the steps involved after filing, including responses from the debtor and potential outcomes such as default judgments or mediation.

For debts exceeding $25,000 or if a more formal process is required, the Magistrates Court can handle claims up to $150,000. The article explains the more stringent rules and procedures for filing and serving claims in the Magistrates Court and emphasises the importance of legal advice in these cases.

Additionally, it discusses enforcement options for judgment debts and the practical considerations of pursuing litigation, including the debtor’s ability to pay and the likelihood of recovering legal costs.

The article encourages attempting settlement before litigation and highlights the benefits of engaging qualified small claims lawyers for effective debt recovery.

Small Claims Court QLD - Complete Guide - Debt Recovery Lawyers

NOTE We are small claims lawyers we are not the small claims court.

In relation to the small claims court Qld, minor debt disputes are heard by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“QCAT“) in Brisbane and in Local Magistrates Courts.

Our small claims lawyers are also able to commence debt recovery in the Magistrates Court Qld, if you have a debt of less than $150,000.00.

In this article our debt collection lawyers will detail the advantages and disadvantages of both, the potential costs involved and answer all of your debt recovery questions and the advantages of engaging small claims lawyers to recover your debt.

Small Claims Lawyers in QCAT

The QCAT minor debt jurisdiction hears debt recovery matters of up to $25,000.00.

Schedule 3 of the QCAT Act defines:

“Minor civil dispute” means … a claim to recover a debt or liquidated demand of money, with or without interest, of up to the prescribed amount

Schedule 3 of the QCAT Act then goes on to say:

“Prescribed amount” means $25000.

The types of debt disputes which might arise include:

  1. Unpaid personal loans;
  2. People – friends or relatives who owe you money;
  3. Unpaid business or company invoices;
  4. Commercial / business unpaid rent (not residential);
  5. Cheques that have bounced; and
  6. Breach of contract for payment of goods and/or services.

Minor Debt Eligibility

As mentioned above, the type of debt allowable are eligible debts in the small claims Court QLD.

These types of debts do not include:

  1. Debts of more than $25,000.00 (see below for Magistrates Court);
  2. If there was no contract or agreement to pay the debt (written, verbal, or partly written & partly verbal);
  3. Consumer or trader complaints, and not a purely debt dispute;
  4. A debt arising from repair of a defect on your car or other vehicle;
  5. A debt arising from property damage caused by a car or vehicle; and
  6. A debt for non-payment of wages or superannuation.

The debt cannot be recovered by small claims lawyers if it has been more than (6) years since the breach.  Section 10 of the Limitation of Actions Act 1974 (QLD) says:

The following actions shall not be brought after the expiration of 6 years from the date on which the cause of action arose … an action founded on simple contract or quasi-contract

However, section 35(3) of the Limitation of Actions Act 1974 (QLD) says:

Where a right of action has accrued to recover a debt or other liquidated pecuniary claim … and the person liable or accountable therefore acknowledges the claim or makes a payment in respect thereof, the right shall be deemed to have accrued on and not before the date of the acknowledgment or the last payment.

In the small claims Court (and all jurisdictions) you only have six (6) years from when the cause of action arose to make your claim, unless you have a written acknowledgement of debt, or the debtor makes some payment, then the six (6) year limitation period starts again from that date.

If you are owed an eligible debt in Queensland, and you meet the criteria above, then our small claims lawyers can start the small claims / minor debt procedure in QCAT.

Small Claims Lawyers in QLD

small claims court qld QCAT in BrisbaneA QCAT minor debt claim is commenced by making an application to the Tribunal.

You can make this application online on the QCAT website, or you can download a QCAT Form 3 – Application for minor civil dispute – minor debt.

You are the Applicant in a minor debt application, and the person who owes you the debt is the Respondent in the application.  This makes sense, you are applying, and they are responding.

The QCAT Form 3 should include the following:

  • Your full name, contact details,  and address for service;
  • The Respondent’s full name, contact details,  and address for service;

Note: If the respondent is a company or business, check the ASIC website to ensure that you have the right entity.  If you have a business name, check the business name registry to see what entity owns the business name.  It is very important to correctly identify the Respondent.

  • Full and detailed particulars of the debt, including, dates, times, amounts owing, what the debt is owing for, your performance of the agreement, etc;
  • All supporting documentation, copy of the contract, emails, text messages, and any other document which supports your claim;
  • The amount claimed for interest.  If you do not have an agreed amount of default interest in a contract, then you can use the Qld Courts Interest Calculator – print it out and include it with your supporting documents; and
  • An amount for costs.

Rule 84 of the QCAT Rules prescribe costs to be:

(a) the prescribed fee for filing the application for the claim;

(b) a fee charged by a service provider for electronically filing a document;

(c) a service fee and travelling allowance at the rate of the prescribed bailiff fees;

(d) a business name or company search fee.

Filing the QCAT Minor Debt Application

Rule 24 of the QCAT Rules says that:

(1) An application, referral or other document in a proceeding may be filed—

(a) in person; or

(b) by post; or

(c) electronically, (email) in the way prescribed by a practice direction; or

(d) if the document is an application or a referral for a proceeding other than a proceeding for a minor civil dispute and there is no fee payable for the document—by fax.

So, this means that for a minor debt claim in the small claims Court, small claims lawyers can file four (4) copies of your application in person, by post, or by email, at QCAT or in the local Magistrates Court mentioned in QCAT Practice Direction No 2 of 2011, as long as you comply with the practice direction.

QCAT address – QCAT registry office, level 9, 259 Queen Street, Brisbane.

Local Magistrates Courts can be found here.

Contacting QCAT

You can contact the QCAT registry by:

  • Email –
  • Phone – 1300 753 228
  • Visit – Level 9, 259 Queen Street, Brisbane
  • Posting – GPO Box 1639, Brisbane QLD 4001.

QCAT Filing Fees

The cost for filing a minor debt application in QCAT (small claims Court) is based upon how much the debt is.

  1. If the debt is $0 to not more than $1,000 – Fee is $90.10
  2. If the debt is $1,000 to $10,000 – Fee is $379.50
  3. If the debt is more than $10,000 – Fee is $759.10

In some cases you can defer payment of the filing fees until the outcome of the minor debt proceeding.

These fees are subject to change so it is best to check the website here –

Serving the Sealed QCAT Application

Once our small claims lawyers get the sealed copies of the application back from the Court or Tribunal (that is stamped with the Court’s seal) you then have to serve the application on the Respondent.

Rule 38 of the QCAT Rules says:

A copy of an application for a minor debt claim may be given to an entity only by delivering it personally to the entity in the way provided in the service practice direction.

QCAT Practice Direction No 8 of 2009 says:

Personal service on an individual – This procedure applies to personal service of a document on an individual in Queensland, generally:

The original or a copy of the document must be given to the individual in person … or put the application down in the individual’s presence and state what the document is … it may be served by being left with someone who is apparently an adult living at the individual’s last known place of business or residence.

QCAT Practice Direction No 8 of 2009 then says in relation to a company:

Personal service on a corporation – A document may be served personally on a corporation in Queensland by:

leaving it at or posting it to the company’s registered office; or serving it personally on a director of the company who resides in Australia or in an external Territory.

QCAT Practice Direction No 8 of 2009 then says in relation to a business:

Personal service on a business

The document may be served by leaving a copy at the place of business with a person who appears to have control or management of the business there.

There are other forms of personal service in the QCAT Practice Direction No 8 of 2009, however these are by far the most common.

You can also use a process server to personally serve your documents.

What Happens Next in Small Claims Court QLD

Once served with your application, the Respondent has 28 days to file and serve you with a response to your claim.

If no response is filed or served, then QCAT will give you a decision in default.  Section 50 of the QCAT Act allows for the Tribunal to make this decision in default.

If the Respondent does file a response, then it will go to a mediation or a hearing and a QCAT Member will make a decision, the Respondent owes the debt amount, owes another debt amount, or does not owe the debt amount.

Advantages and Disadvantages of QCAT in Small Claims Court QLD

The advantages of commencing proceedings in QCAT are:

  1. It is a lot less expensive than commencing in the Magistrates Court;
  2. The process can be a lot quicker than the Magistrates Court;
  3. QCAT is designed for self-represented people and not small claims lawyers.

The disadvantages of commencing proceedings in QCAT are:

  1. The minor debt jurisdiction is mostly a no costs jurisdiction.  This means that you will not be able to recover your costs save for a few designated items as mentioned above;
  2. Small claims lawyers do not have an automatic right of appearance.  This means that if you want us to appear at a QCAT hearing, you will need the leave of the tribunal, which is not always given.

Small Claims Lawyers in Magistrates Court

small claims court in Maroochydore Sunshine CoastIf you are not eligible for QCAT, or your debt is more than $25,000.00, or you do not want to draft the documents and appear by yourself, then you can commence proceedings in the Magistrates Court.

The Magistrates Court has jurisdiction to hear debt claims of up to $150,000.00.

Small claims in the Magistrates Court are commenced by Form 2 – Claim and Form 16 – Statement of Claim.

There are a lot more rules, and the rules are applied more strictly in the Magistrates Court, than they are in QCAT.  We recommend that you seek legal advice before attempting to draft these documents yourself.

Small Claims Lawyers in the Magistrates Court

Once drafted, you will need to file your Claim and Statement of Claim in the correct Magistrates Court.  Section 33 of the Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 1999 (QLD) (“UCPR”) says:

A proceeding in a court may be started in any central registry of the court.

Schedule 3 of the UCPR says:

“central registry” means … the registry of a Magistrates Court in the central division of the Brisbane District, or at Rockhampton, Townsville or Cairns.

Rule 35 of the UCPR says:

A person must start a proceeding before a court in 1 of the following districts—

The district in which the defendant or respondent lives or carries on business; if there is more than 1 defendant or respondent—the district in which 1 or more of the defendants or respondents live or carry on business; if a defendant has agreed or undertaken in writing to pay a debt or another amount at a particular place—the district in which the place is located; or the district in which all or part of the claim or cause of action arose;

So, once you have the Claim and Statement of Claim drafted correctly, and you have filed them in the correct registry, you will receive a sealed version from the Court.

You then have to personally serve the sealed Claim and Statement of Claim.

Personal Service of Originating Process

Rule 106 of the UCPR says:

(1) To serve a document personally, the person serving it must give the document, or a copy of the document, to the person intended to be served.

(2) However, if the person does not accept the document, or copy, the party serving it may serve it by putting it down in the person’s presence and telling him or her what it is.

(3) It is not necessary to show to the person served the original of the document.

We suggest using a process server to serve your claim and statement of claim.  A process server will serve the document correctly, and provide our small claims lawyers with an affidavit of service.

Once served, the Defendant will have 28 days to file a defence and a notice of intention to defend.

What Happens Next?

If the defendant does not file a defence and a notice of intention to defend in the 28 days, you can request default judgment from the Court.  This is a judgment in the full amount of the Claim.

If the defendant does file and serve a defence and a notice of intention to defend, then you have fourteen (14) days to file and serve a Reply (and Answer to any counterclaim).

It starts getting complicated from this point forward.  We strongly advise seeking legal advice.

Enforcement of Money Orders

If you are successful in QCAT and have registered your QCAT decision in the Court, or you were successful in the Magistrates Court, and your judgment debtor still does not pay, you may need to commence enforcement proceedings to enforce the judgment debt.

Read more about enforcement of a QCAT Decision.

Read more about enforcement of a Magistrates Court Judgment.

To Sue or Not to Sue – Small Claims Lawyers

Before you attempt small claims court QLD proceedings, either in QCAT or in the Magistrates Court, you should ask yourself the following:

  1. Has the debtor got any money or assets?
  2. If the debtor likely to go bankrupt or into liquidation?
  3. Does the debtor have a number of different creditors chasing debts?
  4. Is there a genuine dispute over the debt?
  5. Do you have sufficient evidence to support your claim?
  6. Can you afford to spend the money on legal fees, or take 1 or 2 years?

The Court and Tribunal encourage litigants to try to settle the matter before resorting to litigation.

The commercial reality is that you are not likely to get every cent you spend on legal fees, back from the debtor.  In a lot of instances it makes sense to compromise and accept a lesser amount, in exchange for immediate settlement.

Debt recovery through the small claims – minor debt system in Queensland can be complicated and costly.  We recommend engaging suitably qualified legal practitioners.

FAQ on Small Claims Lawyers and Minor Debt Recovery

This FAQ section provides clear and concise answers to common questions about small claims and minor debt recovery in Queensland, guiding you through the processes of QCAT and the Magistrates Court.

Whether you’re a creditor seeking to recover a debt or looking for legal insights, these FAQs offer valuable information to help you navigate the legal landscape effectively.

What is the role of small claims lawyers in debt recovery?

Small claims lawyers assist individuals and businesses in recovering minor debts through legal processes. They navigate the procedures of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) and the Magistrates Court, ensuring that all documents are correctly filed and served. Their expertise helps streamline the process and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

What types of debts can be recovered in QCAT?

QCAT handles minor debt disputes up to $25,000. Eligible debts include unpaid personal loans, unpaid business invoices, commercial rent arrears, bounced cheques, and breaches of contract for goods or services. However, it excludes consumer or trader complaints, debts from vehicle repairs or damage, and unpaid wages or superannuation.

How do small claims lawyers start a minor debt claim in QCAT?

To start a minor debt claim, you must file a QCAT Form 3 – Application for minor civil dispute – minor debt. The form should include detailed particulars of the debt, supporting documentation, and the amount claimed for interest and costs. This can be done online, by post, or in person at the QCAT registry or local Magistrates Court.

How do small claims lawyers serve the QCAT application on the respondent?

Once you receive the sealed copies of the application from QCAT, you must serve them personally on the respondent. This can be done by delivering the documents in person, leaving them at the respondent’s residence or business with an adult, or using a process server. Proper service ensures the respondent is formally notified of the claim.

What happens after the QCAT application is served?

After the application is served, the respondent has 28 days to file and serve a response. If no response is filed, QCAT may issue a default decision in favour of the applicant. If a response is filed, the case may proceed to mediation or a hearing where a QCAT Member will make a final decision.

What are the advantages of using QCAT for minor debt recovery?

QCAT offers a less expensive and quicker process compared to the Magistrates Court. It is designed for self-represented individuals, making it accessible for those who may not want to hire a lawyer. However, costs recovery is limited, and legal representation at hearings requires tribunal approval.

When should small claims lawyers use the Magistrates Court for debt recovery?

The Magistrates Court is suitable for debt recovery claims exceeding $25,000 up to $150,000 or when a more formal legal process is desired. This court handles more complex cases with stricter procedural rules. It is advisable to seek legal advice for drafting and filing documents in the Magistrates Court.

What are the costs involved in filing a claim in the Magistrates Court?

The costs vary based on the complexity and amount of the claim. Filing fees are generally higher than QCAT, and there are additional costs for legal representation, service fees, and potentially court-ordered costs. It is important to consider these expenses when deciding to pursue a claim in the Magistrates Court.

How is personal service of originating process carried out in the Magistrates Court?

Personal service involves delivering the claim and statement of claim to the defendant in person. If the defendant does not accept the documents, they can be left in the defendant’s presence with an explanation of what they are. Using a process server ensures proper service and provides proof of service through an affidavit.

What are the next steps if a defendant does not respond in the Magistrates Court?

If the defendant does not file a defence within 28 days, the plaintiff can request default judgment from the court. This grants the full amount of the claim to the plaintiff. If the defendant files a defence, the case proceeds through further legal steps, including replies, counterclaims, and possibly a trial.

What enforcement options are available if the debtor does not pay after a judgment?

If the debtor does not pay the judgment debt, enforcement proceedings can be initiated. Options include garnishing wages, seizing property, or placing a lien on assets. These measures compel the debtor to fulfil the payment obligations as ordered by the court or tribunal.

What should I consider before pursuing litigation for debt recovery?

Before pursuing litigation, assess the debtor’s ability to pay, the likelihood of recovering the debt, and potential legal costs. Consider whether the debtor might go bankrupt or has multiple creditors. Sometimes, negotiating a settlement for a lesser amount may be more practical and cost-effective.

Can I recover legal costs in a small claims proceeding?

In QCAT, costs recovery is limited to specific items like filing fees and service charges. In the Magistrates Court, costs can be recovered, but this depends on the court’s discretion and the specifics of the case. It is important to factor in potential legal fees when deciding to pursue a claim.

Why is it important to engage a small claims lawyer?

Engaging a small claims lawyer ensures that your case is handled professionally and increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. Lawyers can navigate the complexities of the legal system, draft accurate documents, and provide strategic advice. Their expertise is invaluable, especially in contested cases or when significant amounts are at stake.

Disclaimer: The content on this website is intended only to provide a general summary of information of interest. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute legal advice. We attempt to ensure that the content is current but we do not guarantee its accuracy. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content of this website. Your use of this website or the receipt of any information on this website is not intended to create nor does it create a solicitor-client relationship.


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