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Affected by the VW emissions issue? The deadline to join a lawsuit is approaching

The deadline for drivers to join a lawsuit over the Volkswagen emissions controversy is fast approaching - here is what you need to know. 

The Volkswagen emissions controversy centres on the way software used in diesel vehicles reported emissions. Volkswagen offered to upgrade emissions software in 1.2 million VW Audi, Seat and Skoda vehicles in the UK, following concern in 2015 over how its vehicles performed under test conditions compared to normal road use. 

Volkswagen said it offered the upgrade as a "goodwill gesture" following a £10 billion dollar settlement in the US regarding emissions software - though it says this related to different vehicles and different software. 

In May 2018, the High Court granted a group litigation order (GLO) to lawyers representing affected vehicle-owners in England and Wales, meaning that all the claims will be managed collectively. The action is being co-led by two firms of solicitors, Slater and Gordon and Leigh Day, which will pursue the case for all claimants (even if their claim is registered with another law firm).

The official deadline to join the lawsuit against VW is 26 October, and some solicitors are asking claimants to sign up sooner - but it's worth weighing up the risks before doing so, and there's no guarantee the lawsuit will be successful. 

Volkswagen insists there is "no legal basis" for compensation claims over the emissions issue and has said it intends to "robustly defend any such litigation". See its full statement below

Am I eligible to join the law suit?

Not all owners of cars manufactured by the VW Group are eligible. To be eligible, you'll need to initially meet the following criteria:

  • Your car is/was a VW, Audi, Seat or Skoda.
  • It has/had a 1.2, 1.6 or two litre diesel engine.
  • It was made between 2008 and 2015.
  • You purchased, leased or acquired it (new or second-hand) before 1 January 2016.

You can also check whether your car is affected by entering its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) details on the Volkswagen, Audi, Seat or Skoda websites.

You can make a claim even if you no longer own the car, as long as you still have proof of ownership and know the car's VIN number.

You do not have to have had the upgrade offered by VW for affected vehicles – you can still  join the action. 

How much could I get?

The two law firms leading the case say they will handle it on a "no win, no fee" basis, so you won't have to pay upfront for them to represent you. They've estimated that claimants could potentially win a payout of up to £3,000 each - though Volkswagen is strongly disputing this.

If you do join the lawsuit and it's successful, around 30% of the compensation you're awarded by the court will go to the law firm. Slater and Gordon says for its clients this figure includes VAT and any additional charges, but always check what you will owe before signing up to a case.  

What are the risks of taking part?

While you won't have to pay anything upfront to join the lawsuit, it's important to understand that taking part isn't completely risk-free.

An advertisement informing consumers about the case which was published by order of the High Court warns that potential claimants should check how any lawsuit they join is funded and insured. If the case were to proceed and the court rule in favour of VW, claimants could technically be liable for VW's legal costs.

Both law firms leading the case say for their clients there is insurance in place which should protect against this:

  • Slater and Gordon says if the case was lost its third party funder and insurer would pay VW's costs up to the amount insured and so the risk should be "negligible" - you can read more in the Claim Summary document which is available during the registration process. 

  • Leigh Day also says it has arranged insurance to "protect you against the risk of losing and having to pay the defendants' legal costs and our expenses".

However joining the case is not without some risk and so you should carefully weigh up the potential pros and cons before signing up. 

It's also worth noting you will have to pay your share of fees if you sign up and then withdraw from the case. It's impossible to put a figure on this, but it is likely to be the cost of the case divided by the number of claimants, and so could run into hundreds of pounds - so again think carefully before you sign up to any such case. 

How do I join the law suit? 

You can sign up to be part of the legal action through any of the law firms which are part of the GLO, but the case will be led by Slater and Gordon and Leigh Day.

Slater and Gordon is taking basic claims, but alternatively both firms are taking on the cases of a more select group who meet extra criteria.

How to sign up with Slater and Gordon

Slater and Gordon, which is co-leading the action, says you need to register with it by 22 October. It has a 30-minute online questionnaire which you can use to join the group. You'll need: 

  • A form of ID and proof of address, which can be uploaded electronically. 
  • Your car's registration details.
  • Your car's VIN number, which you can find on the manufacturer's website.
  • Details of where, when and how you acquired the car. 
  • Details of when and how you stopped owning or leasing the car (if applicable).
  • Details of the purchase or lease.
  • Any documents such as sales invoices, delivery notes or finance agreements (if you have them).

If you bought or leased your car in Scotland or Northern Ireland, you'll be part of a separate claim. If you bought the vehicle in Scotland, you can register your interest in being part of the claim by emailing vwscotlandclaims@slatergordon.co.uk. If you bought it in Northern Ireland, you'll need to contact Edwards & Co Solicitors.

Some who meet extra criteria may be able to try and claim up to 50% of the car's value

Both Slater and Gordon and Leigh Day are making a separate claim, as part of the same group action, for those who meet this extra criteria: 

  • You bought the car for personal use, rather than for a business.
  • You paid an approved Volkswagen dealer or Volkswagen Finance on or after 1 October 2014.
  • You bought your vehicle before 1 January 2016.

The claim will be made under the Consumer Protection for Unfair Trading Regulations (CPUT), and if successful the law firms have said you could receive up to 50% of the purchase price of your car - though again, VW strongly disputes this. 

To register to take part in this separate claim with Slater and Gordon. To register with Leigh Day, you need to complete a form on its website by 26 October. 

What happens next?

After the 26 October claims deadline, the next stage will be a 'case management hearing', which will probably take place at the end of the year or early in 2019. This hearing will decide the future of the case, including potentially setting a date for trial.

Slater and Gordon says it expects the case to be concluded within two years.

What does VW Group say?

A spokesperson for VW said: "Our consistent position has been that the instigation of UK legal proceedings was unfounded, and we will robustly defend any such litigation. There is no legal basis for customer claims in connection with the diesel matter. We do not believe that the relevant software is a prohibited defeat device.

"Our UK customers have not suffered any loss or damage as a result of the NOx issue. The vehicles are safe and roadworthy, and perform as advertised. The required approvals are available and have not been withdrawn. Implementation of the voluntary service campaign is ongoing. The residual value of the vehicles has been not affected as a result of the diesel issue.

"We have implemented the technical measures in over 860,000 vehicles in the UK and in approximately 6.4 million vehicles across Europe, with the overwhelming majority of customers in question fully satisfied."