Published: Fri, 12 Oct 2018
Gillett v Holt  Ch 210;  3 WLR 815
Proprietary estoppel – assurances and detriment.
The claimant, Gillett, worked on Holt’s farm. Holt persuaded Gillett to abandon plans for college and to work for him instead. Holt stated several times that on his death the farm would be left to the claimant. The relationship between them subsequently soured and Holt executed a will in which the claimant did not receive the farm. After an investigation into how they were running the farm, the claimant was dismissed and subsequently claimed a proprietary estoppel. The trial judge found against the claimant, who appealed.
Proprietary estoppel allows the claimant to claim an interest in land if the landowner makes a promise that the claimant will acquire an interest and the claimant acts to his detriment in reliance upon this. It was argued that there had been no irrevocable promise made by Holt who was free to change his mind if his circumstances changed. It was also alleged there was insufficient evidence of any detriment to the claimant.
The court found in favour of the claimant. There was no need for the defendant to do anything additional to make his promise irrevocable. In view of the promises made, reliance was presumed. The court pointed out that the three elements of the doctrine are often intertwined and are not separate. Whether there is a mutual understanding depends on all the factors. Detriment is not a narrow or technical concept and need not be financial.Gillett had been denied the opportunity of bettering himself by leaving school. Therefore, he had suffered a detriment in reliance upon Holt’s promise.
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