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D & C Builders v Rees [1966] 2 WLR 28 Court of Appeal

Mr Rees instructed the claimant to do some building work at his home to the value of £746. Mr Rees paid £250 on account and the claimant reduced the bill by £14 and there was a sum owing of £482. The claimant wrote to the defendant several times pressing for payment but was unsuccessful there had been no complaints as to the workmanship at this time. The claimant at the time was in dire financial need and the business was verging on bankruptcy a fact that Mrs Rees was aware of. The defendant telephoned the home and Mrs Rees answered she made complaints about the work and said she would give them £300 in satisfaction of the whole debt. The defendant refused and said he would take the £300 and give her a year to clear the balance. He called at the house to collect the money but Mrs Rees remained firm that she would only pay £300 and demanded that the defendant wrote on the receipt 'in completion of the account' otherwise she would pay him nothing. The defendant needed the money immediately so reluctantly agreed to write this on the receipt but stated he fully intended to pursue the balance as the money paid did not cover the costs he had incurred. He subsequently brought an action to recover the balance. The defendant sought to rely on estoppel relying on the written receipt as demonstrating a promise to accept the lesser sum.

Held:

The claimants were successful. Mrs Rees could not rely on estoppel as there was no true agreement to accept less and because Mrs Rees had taken advantage of the builder's position and mislead them as to her financial position.
 
Back to lecture outline on promissory estoppel in Contract Law