Proprietary estoppel and equitable claims
Whether you’re looking to enforce a broken promise (proprietary estoppel), are involved in a dispute about the true ownership of your home or need to recover assets that belong to you, we can help.
Our proprietary estoppel and equitable claim experience includes:
- claims to enforce broken promises;
- claims to enforce unwritten agreements and contracts;
- claims over farm and agricultural land;
- claims to recover property and assets (resulting trust claims);
- claims over land, including claims under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (‘TOLATA claims’);
- disputes over family homes (constructive trust and “Stack v Dowden” claims);
- other equitable claims; and
- claims to set aside lifetime transfers by reason of lack of capacity or undue influence.
What is proprietary estoppel?
Proprietary estoppel is a legal remedy to enforce a broken promise. To prove proprietary estoppel you must show four things:
- a promise made by one person to another;
- reliance upon the promise; and
- loss suffered by the person when the promise is broken, known as “detriment”.
What constitutes each of these depends very much on the individual circumstances of the case. For example, a promise in a commercial transaction may need to be evidenced by a written contract, whereas a promise between two people in relation to the farming of land may be by words alone.
We have a proven track record in dealing with proprietary estoppel cases both without court proceedings and going to trial.
We represented the successful claimant in the highly publicised case of Davies & Another v Davies  EWCA Civ 463 involving farmland estimated to be worth approximately £7.5m.
What is an equitable claim?
Equity, literally meaning fairness or justness, arose as a legal concept in England and Wales in response to a need to achieve a remedy in cases for which there was no set law, for instance, where parties had entered into an agreement not covered by a written contract.
A claim in equity - an equitable claim - is therefore any claim where there is no set remedy i.e. by reference to a contract, deed or legislation. It therefore includes claims to enforce broken promises (proprietary estoppel), claims to recover assets wrongfully held by a third party (resulting trust claims) or claims for a share in property or an asset where there has been some prior agreement, for instance through a course of dealings over a number of years (constructive trusts).
What is a resulting trust?
A resulting trust is a legal relationship in which one person, known as a resulting trustee, is the legal owner of an asset but on behalf of another person. For example if a parent lends their child money to buy a house without a written agreement, the child holds the house, or a share of it, on “resulting trust” for the parent. If, when asked, the child then refuses to give the parent their share, the parent is able to bring a resulting trust claim to seek their share.
Our team of specialist solicitors has significant experience in dealing with resulting trust claims and have a proven track record in recovering property for people.
What is a constructive trust?
A constructive trust is where one or more people have been wrongfully deprived of their property or assets. This can be when another person has wrongfully or unfairly received assets, known as “unjust enrichment”, or, for instance, where the common intention between two or more parties is not reflected by the legal ownership of an asset. That is particularly common in the context of the family home.
Unjust enrichment can occur in a number of situations, for instance if one person has received property belonging to another for which they have not paid anything.
A constructive trust can arise, for instance, if a couple buy a home together and one of them spends a significant amount of time and money in renovating the house. That person may be able to claim an increased share of the home in the event of a separation.
See our blog on a case involving a dispute over the family home.
Our solicitors can advise you on your case whether you are looking to bring or defend a constructive trust claim.
How quickly can my proprietary estoppel or equitable claim be dealt with?
Each case is unique and so how quickly your case might be resolved depends on the particular circumstances. However, with one of the largest teams in the UK, with over 50 years’ experience and with recognised leaders in the field, we pride ourselves on being able to resolve your claim as quickly as possible.
Are there time limits for proprietary estoppel or equitable claims?
In most cases there is no strict time limit. However, in cases where there has been a significant delay or where a person has admitted to any potential wrongdoing this can be raised as a defence to a proprietary estoppel or equitable claim. As such, the key is to act fast.
With a dedicated team specialising in proprietary estoppel and equitable claims we are able to act quickly.
Is my proprietary estoppel or equitable claim suitable for mediation?
Mediation is a form of dispute resolution in which an independent person, known as a mediator, works with the parties to try to negotiate a settlement. Mediations are usually carried out on a ‘without prejudice’ basis so that anything discussed at mediation cannot disclosed to the court.
The usual format involves each “side” having their own, private room. The mediator’s job is to work with the lawyers to try to achieve a positive settlement for all parties.
Although not suitable for every case, mediations do have a high success rate of settlement. Our experience and knowledge means that we have secured excellent results for our clients at mediation.