In Tinsley v Milligan, the plaintiff Tinsley sought ownership of a jointly owned property2. Tinsley was the legal owner of the property. She had been living with the defendant Milligan, and these two females had contributed monetarily to the acquisition of that property3. Milligan’s contention was that Tinsley was a trustee for both of them. As such, these women had committed a fraud on the Department of Social Security. They had purchased the property, but had retained title to the property in only the name of Tinsley. This stratagem enabled Milligan to claim benefits from the Department of Social Security, as a person without any property to her name4.
In this case, the plaintiff contended that ‘he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.’ Consequently, as per her contention, Milligan was precluded from claiming an equitable interest in the property. The House of Lords ruled that as Milligan did not rely on her illegality, she could enforce such interest. Moreover, it was Tinsley who would have to rely on the evidence provided by the illegal purpose5.
It was held by the House of Lords that Milligan could claim her equitable beneficial interests in the property. The Law Lords opined that a plaintiff could claim proprietary interests, as long as she did not rely on an illegality to establish the interest6. Thus, equitable interest of this type was to be considered as similar to the immediate rights to possession under the common law.
As such, in this case, two women, paid for a property, but placed the property in the name of one of them. This was done in order to claim housing benefits. However, the courts did not allow this fraudulent behaviour to affect the proprietary rights of the woman, whose name had not been indicated as the half owner of the property.
All the same, if the plaintiff had attempted to assert her personal right to entitlement, on the basis of unjust enrichment, she could not have succeeded in her claim.