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Unjust Enrichment in English Law

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The legal principle of unjust enrichment allows a claimant to seek redress for any unjust enrichment another party may have gained at the claimant's expense. Unjust enrichment can occur by chance, by mistake or unfairly but there is no requirement of wrongdoing. Where unjust enrichment has occurred the usual legal remedy is restitution. Restitution of unjust enrichment is a developing area of law which has generated much academic commentary due to its awkward fit in the English legal system.

Defining Unjust Enrichment

There are several elements to a claim of unjust enrichment including:

  1. The defendant has been enriched by the receipt of a benefit;
  2. The enrichment is at the expense of the claimant;
  3. The retention of the enrichment must be unjust; and
  4. There must be no defence or bar to the claim.

An example is where work has been done in anticipation of a contract that fails to materialise and the claimant is not paid for the work.

Restitution of Unjust Enrichment

In academic circles there is much debate about how restitution fits into a common law system; it is better understood in Roman law systems. English law, based on the doctrine of common law, finds restitution an uneasy concept. One question academics are concerned with is the nature of the remedy. More fundamental however is whether it is a separate distinct doctrine in itself or a concept that arises from other principles such as contract, tort, equity, trusts and so forth.

In practical terms the remedy is apparently simpler; restitution aims to reverse an unjust enrichment by subtracting the benefit from the defendant.

If no breach of contract exists as a basis for a claim restitution of unjust enrichment can be considered but it is a complex, uncertain area of law. If you need advice on this issue Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can help you; for more information please contact James Crighton ( via e-mail or by phone on 0207 611 4848.