Consumer law experts and consumer champion Which? have called for more information from the Department for Transport (DfT) to see if legal action can be brought against Volkswagen in the wake of its emissions scandal.
The DfT’s Parliamentary watchdog, the Transport Committee, heard evidence on April 25 about whether the Government should be seeking compensation for taxpayers and customers.
The DfT released the results of its Vehicle Emissions Testing Programme on April 21 where it concluded that VW Group vehicles were the only ones using defeat devices.
The committee referred to when Paul Willis, VW Group UK managing director, gave his evidence at a Transport Committee panel last year on whether consumers have the right to compensation.
Willis said at the time: “To give compensation, there needs to be evidence of a loss and there is no evidence of a loss.”
VW has made goodwill payments of up to $1,000 in the US but has not been legally ordered to do so. Peter Shears, Plymouth University professor of consumer law and policy, said this was “brand protection” where VW has a large segment of the diesel market in the US.
Richard Lloyd, executive director Which? said: “Part of the problem we have is that we don’t have enough information from the DfT about precisely what it found in its investigations to allow us to work out whether consumers have suffered a loss and what the impact of the cheat devices have had.
“Until DfT put out more evidence about what they have found in their investigation and consumers’ ability to put a claim in at court for any loss, it’s really hard for us to establish what legislation has been breached and what impact there may have been on consumers and therefore what they may do about it.”
The DfT has said it expects to publish a full breakdown of its report before the end of May. It also confirmed that the defeat devices are in breach of the Vehicle Certification Agency’s (VCA) type approval process, but it was up to a court to determine whether that was illegal.
Lloyd said: “Consumers feel conned. We surveyed 30,000 consumers and 93% said they felt the car industry isn’t treating them fairly, while 75% said they feel the Government must now take action.”
Shears argued that the US government has put more pressure on VW in comparison to the UK.
Shears said: “I think at the very least there will be arguments over whether what VW has done is a breach of contract.”
He gave a legal example in the US of a class action lawsuit at a federal court in San Francisco on behalf of 600,000 consumers against VW.
Lloyd said that while the UK doesn’t have a class action style lawsuit that could be brought to VW, it’s possible there could be what is called “representative actions” where a small number of consumers or people affected can represent others that have opted into a legal case. However, he admitted that is difficult to put together in this country.
Which? wants to see the DfT’s testing data by brand and by model. It wants to see verifications of the impact the software fixes have had and more detail on what impact the defeat device had prior to a fix.
Lloyd said: “We would like to see in the public domain clear evidence that has been independently verified, of VW’s assessments of the impact on fuel efficiency, VW’s evidence on no impact on resale value, what the UK testing methodology is and what it is that the change to the software will do to the fuel efficiency. Then we can benchmark the differences for consumers.”
Christian Twigg-Flesner, consumer law professor at the University of Hull said if it is determined that consumers have had to spend more money on fuel over a set period of time, that would be a quantifiable loss.
Twigg-Flesner said: “There may also be an opportunity for compensation beyond economic loss based on the loss of confidence.”