D & C Builders Ltd v Rees [1965]

D & C Builders Ltd v Rees [1965] EWCA Civ 3 revolved around part payment of debt, estoppel, duress, and just accord and satisfaction. The case highlights the tension between the common law principle that part payment does not discharge the entire debt and equitable doctrines such as estoppel and duress.

D & C Builders Ltd, a two-man building firm, performed work for Mr Rees at 218 Brick Lane, London, amounting to £732. Mr Rees only paid £250, leaving a balance of £482. Faced with the threat of bankruptcy, D & C reluctantly agreed to accept £300 from Mrs Rees, who claimed the work was unsatisfactory. The receipt for this payment was marked in completion of account. Subsequently, D & C sought the balance through legal action.

Lord Denning MR acknowledged the criticism the doctrine of part payment had received but highlighted that estoppel, derived from Hughes v Metropolitan Railway Co [1877], could provide relief in equity. While he believed that part payment of a debt could satisfy the whole debt, he found that Mrs Rees had effectively compelled the builders to accept a reduced amount. Therefore, any variation of the original agreement was deemed voidable due to duress.

Lord Denning referred to the principle stated by Lord Cairns in Hughes v Metropolitan Railway Co, emphasising that if parties engage in negotiations that lead one party to believe strict contractual rights will not be enforced, the enforcing party may be estopped in equity.

He acknowledged the legal doctrine that payment of a lesser sum does not discharge a greater sum but noted that equity has provided relief. The principle applies when a debtor believes, based on negotiations, that paying a lesser sum will settle the debt, the creditor accepts it, and it would be inequitable to enforce the balance.

However, Lord Denning found that in this case, there was no true accord. Mrs Rees had pressured the creditor by threatening not to pay anything unless £300 was accepted in settlement, constituting undue pressure and intimidation. Therefore, there was no valid accord and satisfaction. As a result, there was no legal or equitable reason preventing the creditor from enforcing the full amount of the debt.

In summary, the court dismissed the appeal, ruling in favour of D & C Builders Ltd, allowing them to enforce the full amount of the debt. The judgment in this case reflects the court's attempt to reconcile the common law principles with equitable considerations, providing relief in situations where strict enforcement of legal rights would be inequitable.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.