Reforming VCAT: Addressing Delays in Building Dispute Resolutions
Did you know that the median time to resolve a building dispute in Victoria now stands at an alarming three years? This is one of the many challenges currently facing the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), Victoria’s principal forum for resolving domestic construction disputes.
The complexity of domestic building disputes has grown significantly due to factors such as the rise of skyrise domestic apartments, cladding litigation, multi-party disputes, and the increasing need for expert evidence. These factors mean domestic building disputes in Victoria mirror those typically adjudicated in the NSW Supreme Court. Coupled with a surge in cases, this has led to long waiting periods, discouraging lawyers from advising clients to seek redress through VCAT.
Recent decisions, such as Thurin v Krongold Constructions, have also cast a shadow of uncertainty over VCAT’s jurisdiction. This has resulted in many domestic building cases being transferred to the courts, introducing higher costs and complexity. The repercussions are severe for homeowners, who consequently face increased financial barriers in seeking redress for defective homes. We are concerned this situation could potentially lead to a decrease in construction quality without the realistic threat of being sued builders may feel less accountable for their work.
Furthermore, there is a significant budgetary discrepancy between VCAT and other courts. Last year, VCAT received $70.5 million in government funding, allowing for an average budget of only $1,169.16 per matter. In contrast, the Supreme Court, with a budget of $100.3m, handled cases with an average budget of $18,379.22 per matter. While the Supreme Court is tasked with resolving the most complex issues in the state, the 18:1 budget discrepancy seems unsupportable, particularly when domestic building claims often reach into millions of dollars.
Warlows Legal has been working with the Building and Construction Committee of the Law Institute of Victoria workshop potential solutions. We propose appointing a team of emergency seasonal members to expedite lower complexity domestic building matters. To fund this, a special levy could be applied to development applications across the state. This approach could restore faith in VCAT as a swift dispute resolution forum and curb the prevalence of building defects.
We urge Victorians to join us in calling for increased funding and support for the building and construction list in VCAT. If you need assistance navigating the complexities of VCAT, or if we can assist in any way, please contact the team at Warlows Legal.
By Harriet Warlow-Shill and Samuel J Woff