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Charles Rowe V. Vale Of White Horse District Council 2003 Notes

BCL Law Notes > Restitution of Unjust Enrichment BCL Notes

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FACTS The Council as local housing authority built and operated a sewage treatment works and two pumping stations to provide for the disposal of sewage from its council houses and charged the costs of operating and maintaining the sewerage service to its Housing Revenue Account. The Council did not separately charge its tenants for the cost of the provision to them of the sewerage services... The Council entered into private contracts with the owners of certain properties which never belonged to the Council to provide sewerage services in return for payment for such services. From 1982 until 2001, whilst the Council recovered payment from those who entered into contracts for payment for such services, the Council made no claim for any payment for sewerage services from any of the owners of properties which it had sold, least of all Mr. Rowe. The reason for this lack of action during the period 1982- 1995 was (according to the Council) an administrative oversight...
Over the whole period from 1982 until the 26th March 2001 the Council gave no intimation to any house owner or occupier to whom it was providing sewerage services other than those with whom it had entered into contracts that there was any question of any charge being made for them.... In 2002 finally, after consultation with its legal advisors the council made a retrospective demand for payment for the last 13 years. Mr Rowe protested that, if he had known that there was any question of such a liability arising, he would have wished to consider an alternative to continuing to accept the Council's services (e.g. acquiring and using a septic tank) and would each year have made provision to meet the eventual liability. It is however clear on the evidence that there was no practical alternative to use of the Council's sewerage services available at a price comparable to that which the Council intends to charge and Mr Rowe raises no defence of "change of position". ISSUE Whether a claimant can recover payment for the supply of services under the principles of restitution where over the thirteen years that he made supplies to the defendant he never gave any intimation that he intended to make any charge for the supplies and in the circumstances the defendant reasonably believed that in obtaining such supplies he incurred no liability to the claimant or anyone else in respect of them. HOLDING There was incontrovertible benefit

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