‘Promises Should be Kept’ – Court of Appeal Upholds Proprietary Estoppel Judgment

9 July, 2019

The court of appeal has recently upheld a high court judgement (in the case of Habberfield v Habberfield 2019) in which a large portion of a farming business was awarded to the youngest daughter of a family, Lucy, despite the fact that this would result in her mother having to move from her home of 40 years.


Lucy’s father owned a farming business which he had left to her mother, despite having made various representations and promises to Lucy that Lucy would inherit a ‘viable dairy farm’. Lucy had relied on these promises and ended up working very long hours for low pay and she also took very few holidays.


The High Court found that Lucy had relied on the promises to her detriment and that, had she not been working on the farm, she could have built a successful business on her own account. She was therefore awarded £1.17m from the £2.5m estate.


Lucy’s mother appealed the decision as she considered the decision unfair and on the basis that an offer had been made to Lucy in 2008, which would have resulted in her receiving a dairy farm, but she turned this down.


The Court of Appeal found that, while the outcome would be hard for her mother, it was within the first instance judge’s discretion to make the award they made and, separately, that the rejection of the offer in 2008 did not waive Lucy’s right to pursue a proprietary estoppel claim. The court commented that ‘underpinning the whole doctrine of proprietary estoppel is the idea that promises should be kept’.