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'Direct transfers' in the law of unjust enrichment

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For a claim to lie in unjust enrichment, the law requires that the defendant's enrichment must have been gained ‘at the claimant's expense’. A popular account of this requirement, as it applies to personal claims, holds that as a general rule the law of unjust enrichment only reverses ‘direct’ transfers of value. There are good reasons why the law should not reverse many ‘indirect’ transfers, and some significant problems would be created if the law did so. Nevertheless, it is argued that these concerns do not require the courts to restrict the law's remedial potential by a categorical ‘direct transfer’ rule. They would do better to adopt a ‘but for’ causal test to identify qualifying transfers of value, leaving the task of liability containment to be tackled, in a better focused way, by other means. The article is solely concerned with the issues raised by personal claims in unjust enrichment; proprietary claims raise additional issues that are not considered.

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