• It was held in this case that where a party seeking to rely on proprietary estoppel has an expectation, relief can be awarded according to that, if that expectation is proportionate to the detriment which has been suffered.

Facts of the case:

  • X’s gardener, C, began to care for X on a full-time basis. C cared for X extensively, and slept on X’s sofa for the very last portion of X’s life, in order to provide her with adequate care.
  •  X promised C that he would inherit her house upon her death, though she died intestate.
  • C argued that he should acquire the house through proprietary estoppel.

Issues in Jennings v Rice [2003]:

  • The principal issue was whether there was proprietary estoppel, and if so, what relief should be granted.

The Court of Appeal held:

  • Half of the price of the house was awarded to C, because in determining the relief, the courts must look at the entirety of the context surrounding the reliance and the detriment. Principally, there must be a degree of proportionality between the detriment and the expectation.
  • In this case, the detriment was not proportionate to an award of the entire equitable interest in the house, a sum totalling £400,000: the claimant was a consensual carer and was provided with free accommodation.

Aldous LJ

  • [36] “the value of the equity will depend upon all the circumstances including the expectation and the detriment. The ask of the court is to do justice. The most essential requirement is that there must be proportionality between the expectation and the detriment”
  • [29] “Sledmore is another case where the court did not merely conclude that the award should satisfy the expectation. All the members of the court took account of the material circumstances. The need for proportionality was at the heart of the judgments”

Editor’s note

  • This judgment has since been overturned and is thus no longer biding. It was overruled in Habberfield v Habberfield [2019]. There was a welter of criticism on this case. Much of that criticism was grounded upon the uncertainty the judgment caused. The fact that the claimant’s expectation was the starting point meant that differing expectations would inevitably lead to differing end results.
  • Now, under Habberfield, the relief is determined following an assessment of proportionality with the detriment.