Resolve a dispute

On this page:

When things go wrong

Things sometimes go wrong with the products and services we buy. If you cannot resolve the dispute, we may be able to help by providing:

  • information about your rights
  • examples of complaint letters and emails
  • conciliation services
  • advice about your options with a tribunal or court.

Step 1: Know your rights

For products:

Under the Australian Consumer Law, products you buy from an Australian business are covered by ‘consumer guarantees’.

After you use a product, or when you receive an item you have bought online, you may identify problems with it. Depending on the type of problem (also known as a failure under the Australian Consumer Law), the store or seller may have to provide a ‘remedy’, such as:

  • a refund
  • repairs
  • a replacement
  • compensation.

To find out about whether you have the right to return your product, view our Refunds, repairs and replacements page.

Note: if you bought an item online from a private seller (not engaged in trade or commerce) or overseas store, different rules apply. View our pages: 

For services:

View our Problems with a service page.

Step 2: Speak with the business

Explain the issue you have with the product or service by approaching the business directly, either:

  • in person
  • over the phone
  • by email or the social media page of the business.

Make sure you are talking to someone who has the authority to address your issue, such as the manager.

You can ask the business to either:

  • refund your money
  • repair your product
  • replace your product
  • fix the work.

Keep notes of your contact with the business, such as the:

  • name of the person you spoke to
  • date of your meeting or phone call
  • content of your discussion.

Step 3: Write a complaint letter or email to the business

If speaking to the business directly has not resolved your issue, send them a complaint letter or email . Act quickly - delay can sometimes affect your rights.

Putting your complaint in writing is useful because you will have a record:

  • of discussions you had with the business
  • to show a third party if you choose to take your complaint further
  • to show that you made a reasonable attempt to resolve the issue yourself.

Use our Complaint letter/email template (Word, 58KB).

Example complaint letters and emails:

If your issue is with a franchise (chain store), write to the store you originally dealt with, and send a copy to its head office.

Send your letter by registered post and keep a copy for yourself. If you do take your complaint further, you will need to show your letter (or email) to the third party.

Timeframes

There is no set ‘reasonable’ time in which a business must resolve an issue. You should allow enough time for the business to receive and reply to your letter, and to start making arrangements for a remedy. This could take anywhere from seven to 28 days.

Be persistent – write a reminder letter if the business does not reply.

You may want to indicate that if the business does not reply, you will take your complaint further using one of the options in Step 4 below.

Step 4: Take your complaint further

If the business does not resolve your issue, what you do next depends on how you paid for the product or service.

Payment method

What to do

You bought from an online auction house

Most auction houses have a dispute resolution service. For example, you can report an issue to eBay’s Resolution Centre up to 45 days after the sale. You can open a case in the Resolution Centre regardless of how you bought the item ie, via an auction or ‘Buy it now’.

Note: if you paid via PayPal, you will be automatically directed from eBay to the PayPal Resolution Centre. See below.

You can also post feedback about the seller on the auction site to warn the auction house and other potential buyers. 

You paid via PayPal

You can file a dispute through PayPal's Resolution Centre within 45 days of paying for the item.

You may be covered by PayPal’s Buyer Protection

You paid via a credit card

Contact your provider to organise a chargeback (this effectively reverses the credit card charge, and is similar to a refund). Act quickly; many credit card providers have short deadlines (for example, 60 days) for lodging a chargeback request. Chargebacks can take up to one year to be finalised.

Note: the chargeback is a process with your credit card provider, separate from any other dispute resolution service such as those with eBay or PayPal.

You paid via online cash transfer

If you used an instant cash transfer system (such as Western Union or MoneyGram) or if you deposited your money directly into the seller's bank account, it can be very difficult to track your money once the seller has collected it. In this case, you should contact the police who may be able to assist.

You can also contact Consumer Affairs Victoria:

After seeking our advice, you can take your complaint further by:

  • applying for a civil claims hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)
  • requesting conciliation if you have already made a complaint and your dispute meets our criteria
  • lodging a complaint with the relevant industry ombudsman or alternative dispute resolution scheme (if there is one for the business)
  • seeking independent legal advice.

For more information, view our Conciliation policy section.

General conciliation

Conciliation is an informal process to help you and the business resolve a dispute through communication, identifying the issues in dispute and exploring options for resolution.

We usually conduct conciliation by telephone, email and letters, but we sometimes hold face-to-face meetings.

As Victoria’s consumer affairs regulator, we can try to help you reach an agreement, but only VCAT or the courts can force a business or landlord to resolve an issue. We can advise you about your options with VCAT or the courts.

Note: Consumer Affairs Victoria’s conciliation is voluntary and we cannot force a trader or consumer to be involved.

Specialist conciliation services

As well as general conciliation, we provide specialist conciliation services:

  • Estate Agents Resolution Service (EARS) is a dedicated service for advice, information, complaints and dispute resolution regarding the purchase, sale and management of property. Telephone: 1300 73 70 30
  • Building Advice and Conciliation Victoria (BACV) may conciliate domestic building disputes where either parties to a major domestic building contract are unable to reach an agreement. Telephone: 1300 557 559
  • Residential Accommodation may conciliate disputes which may arise from tenancies (including residential parks, caravan parks and rooming houses), retirement villages and owners corporations. Telephone: 1300 55 81 81 (ask for 'residential accommodation').

Alternative dispute resolution schemes

Last updated: 29/07/2014

Was this page helpful?