Promissory estoppel
Produced in partnership with Nicholas Macklam of Radcliffe Chambers
Promissory estoppel

The following Dispute Resolution practice note Produced in partnership with Nicholas Macklam of Radcliffe Chambers provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Promissory estoppel
  • Promissory estoppel—what is it?
  • Promissory estoppel—what do you need to establish?
  • Promissory estoppel and unconscionable behaviour
  • When might you rely on promissory estoppel?
  • Examples of when promissory estoppel has not applied
  • Promissory estoppel and payments of money
  • Promissory estoppel—practical considerations

For guidance on the basic features of the doctrine of estoppel and the different classifications it has been subject to, see Practice Note: Estoppel—what, when and how to plead and related content.

Promissory estoppel—what is it?

Where A has, by words or conduct, made to B a clear and unequivocal promise or assurance which relates to the legal relations between them and is intended to be acted on accordingly, then, once B has taken A at their word and acted on it, A cannot afterwards be allowed to revert to their previous legal relations as if no promise or assurance had been made by them.

Promissory estoppel is also sometimes known as 'equitable forbearance' and is said to have developed from the doctrine of waiver, which occurs where one party (A) voluntarily agrees to a request by the other (B) not to perform in the manner fixed by the contract (see Practice Note: Estoppel—what, when and how to plead—Waiver by estoppel).

Promissory estoppel—what do you need to establish?

The requirements for establishing a defence of promissory estoppel are:

  1. a representation (usually in the form of a promise or assurance)—that party A will not enforce its strict legal rights as against party B. The representation may be one of present or future intention

  2. reliance—in order to rely on promissory estoppel, party B must rely upon the representation to their detriment

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