Watts and Ready v Story

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Last modified: 12/10/18 Author: In-house law team

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Watts and Ready v Story (1984) NLJ 631 301

Proprietary estoppel required detriment.


The claimant’s grandmother induced him to move from Leeds to Nottinghamshire so that he would look after her by stating that she would leave him her property if he did. The claimant did so. Shortly afterwards the grandmother died. Her will left him a legacy of £2,000 a share of the land subject to a life interest for her son. The claimant sought the whole property on the basis of proprietary estoppel, but the trial judge held that he had suffered no detriment.


To claim proprietary estoppel, one must show a promise was made to grant an interest in the promisor’s land which the claimant relied upon to their detriment. Shortly after the claimant moved to Nottinghamshire a stock market crash wiped out his savings. The trial judge held that this was an outside event and not a detriment suffered by the claimant in reliance upon a promise. The question was whether the claimant had suffered any detriment.


When assessing whether the claimant suffered any detriment the court took into any benefits he had obtained. Under the will he acquired rights in property and money. In moving house, the claimant had given up a statutory tenancy under the Rent Act 1977. However, he was unemployed and had moved with his partner, so he had not lost his job nor his relationship. He had also lived in the house rent-free. Any disadvantages, therefore, were only slight. The court held that proprietary estoppel can only arise if it would be inequitable for the promisor to be free to go back on their promise. This required that the claimant suffer some detriment. Therefore, his appeal was dismissed.

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