Tractor in field

Unjust enrichment v proprietary estoppel

The recent case of Mate v Mate [2023] has demonstrated that the law of unjust enrichment and the remedy of restitution can sometimes help, where a claim of proprietary estoppel fails.

In this case Julie Mate pursued both claims simultaneously against her mother (Shirley) and two brothers (Robert and Andrew).

Proprietary Estoppel Claim

On the death of Julie’s father, the family farm was left to Shirley and Julie’s two brothers, with the three daughters receiving a small sum. Julie identified a piece of the farmland which she considered could be sold for housing development. With the knowledge and encouragement of Shirley, she worked over a number of years to achieve this, and the land was sold for development at an £8.7 million uplift.

In doing so, Julie relied on the promises from her mother that, “if any farmland were to be sold, the money would be shared with the girls” and “the girls would be looked after”. Nevertheless, Julie failed to establish proprietary estoppel since the promises did not hold sufficient clarity in the promise or assurance.

Unjust Enrichment Claim

Julie, however, was successful in her alternative claim that her mother and brothers had been unjustly enriched by the time (approximately 550 hours within a ten-year span) and money (nearly £6,000 in planning consultant fees) she had spent promoting the land. They had sought to retain the entirety of the benefit, namely the total uplift in value, when the land was sold.

Julie was not a professional land promoter, there was no formal contract, and she did not take part in the final stages when planning permission was achieved. Consequently, the judge awarded Julie 7.5% of the uplift on the basis that she had provided services akin to a land promoter and should be paid on a commission basis, albeit this was discounted due to the reasons listed above.


This case demonstrates how a claim of unjust enrichment can succeed in relation to land and further in relation to an individual giving up their time and effort. It could set a trend for more people to bring an argument of unjust enrichment as a possible alternative to a claim of proprietary estoppel.

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