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Facts:[]

Roffey has contracted to Shepherds Bush Housing Association to renovate 27 flats in London. They subcontracted carpentry to Lester Williams for £20,000 payable in instalments. Williams ran in financial difficulty and needed more money to continue the work. Roffey was going to be liable under a penalty clause for late completion, so they decided that they will make extra payment to the Carpenter. Williams continued with work, but £3500 was still missing. Roffey contracted new carpenters.  

Issue[]

  1. Can Williams enforce the Roffey Brothers’ promise to pay more even though Williams only promised in return to do work he was already bound to complete?

Decision[]

Held: The Roffeys' promise to pay more to Williams was enforceable.

Reasons[]

The Roffeys' promise to pay more to Williams ought to be enforceable. Glidewell held that promises/modifications to on-going contractual relationships should be enforceable provided 1) that the promisor received some practical benefit from the arrangement as consideration and 2) the promise was not procured through fraud or economic duress.

In this case, the practical benefit of timely completion (which allowed the Roffeys to avoid a penalty for late completion) was sufficient, and economic duress did not void the enforceability of this promise to pay more/contractual variation.

This narrowed the Stilk pre-existing duty rule substantially (or, as some scholars say, effectively overruled it).

Ratio[]

Absent fraud or economic duress, a variation of a contract will be enforceable provided that the promisor receives some practical benefit as consideration for the variation.

(But see Re Selectmove: practical benefits do not allow enforceability of agreements to accept partial sums in satisfaction of a debt under English law).

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