Promise Not Enforceable Rules Court


When promises are made but not kept, the law often provides no redress for the disappointed person, as a recent case involving a couple who looked after a friend demonstrates.
The couple looked after their friend when he became unable to care for himself, and they helped him deal with his affairs. He offered them the use of two properties he owned, which they accepted. Over the ensuing years, they decorated and maintained the properties and even carried out improvements to one of them. The man told the couple that he intended to leave the properties to them when he died and also made other people aware that this was his intention. He signed a document to that effect, but it was not a valid will and he died legally intestate. At the point at which the man died, the properties were worth £280,000.
The couple applied for the title to the properties to be transferred to them. When their request was refused, they went to court claiming that the man’s promise had created a ‘constructive trust’ for them and that they were entitled to the properties because they had acted to their own detriment on account of the man’s promise. Where a person acts to their own detriment on the basis of a promise made by another person, it may be possible to mount a successful claim.
However, the court rejected the couple’s claim. There was, in the mind of the judge, an insufficient link between the promise and the couple’s detriment to mean they should benefit, except by way of compensation for their expenditure and a small amount for their disappointment. Accordingly, an award of £20,000 was made. The couple appealed, claiming that there was in effect a bargain between them and the man which the court should uphold.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the man’s offer of property for use was not accompanied by a requirement that the couple carry out the acts for which they claimed compensation, so there was no ‘bargain’. Nor was there any ground for the assumption that receipt of properties worth £280,000 was in proportion to the detriment that the couple had suffered. The claim was therefore rejected.

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