Greenpeace and Which? welcome move by 10,000 Volkswagen owners for £3,000 in compensation as carmaker faces bill as high as £3.6bn

Thousands of British motorists have launched a lawsuit against Volkswagen over the “dieselgate” emissions scandal, in a claim that could end up costing the carmaker billions of pounds.

The group of 10,000 VW owners has filed a class action lawsuit against the German car firm, seeking £30m, or £3,000 each.

The chair of a parliamentary committee on the environment and consumer group Which? both welcomed the claim, which VW said it would “robustly” contest.

If the company had to pay £3,000 to each of the 1.2 million people who own affected cars, including its Škoda, Audi and Seat marques, it would cost about £3.6bn.

The German firm has yet to reach a settlement with British and European owners affected by the scandal, in which the company admitted using “defeat devices” to cheat emissions tests, making its cars appears greener than they were.

It has not compensated British owners despite reaching a £15bn settlement with 500,000 US drivers, offering instead to fix affected vehicles.

The class action suit, which is being led by law firm Harcus Sinclair, is expected to claim that drivers should be compensated because they paid extra for what they thought were clean diesel cars.

In fact, Harcus Sinclair alleged in a statement on its website that the cars emitted far higher levels of NOx – a mixture of pollutants nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide – than stated.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, NOx emissions cause 23,000 premature deaths in the UK each year.

The law firm’s application for group litigation, which is free for claimants to join, will be heard in the high court on 30 January.

Damon Parker, the head of litigation at Harcus Sinclair, told the Daily Mail claimants were “angry and believe that VW might get away with it”.

“They feel that they have been left with no choice but to take legal action. We have paved the way for consumers who trusted but were let down by VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda to seek redress through our courts,” he said.

“It it only right that UK car owners affected by the scandal have the opportunity to seek compensation. We have secured funding so that those affected can bring this claim against VW at no cost to themselves.

“The group action aims to ensure that, if VW is found to have misled consumers about the environmental damage caused by their cars, they are penalised accordingly so as to discourage this sort of behaviour from happening again.”

Parker criticised VW’s offer to fix cars affected by the scandal without offering compensation. He said: “Consumers are doubtful that the fixes will lower toxic emissions. But getting their cars fixed is not enough. The damage to the environment has been done.”

A VW spokesman said: “We have been notified that Harcus Sinclair intends to bring proceedings against Volkswagen on behalf of 77 claimants in the English high court.We intend to defend such claims robustly.”

Vickie Sheriff, director of campaigns and communications at Which?, said: “Which? agrees that VW must not be let off the hook. Volkswagen customers in the UK will rightly question why US consumers are getting compensation and there is still nothing on the table for the 1.2 million owners affected in this country.

“The UK government also has a responsibility to ensure that UK customers are treated fairly. It simply has not done enough to hold VW to account throughout this scandal.”

Harcus Sinclair is collaborating on the case with other law firms, including Slater & Gordon.

Jacqueline Young, head of group litigation at Slater and Gordon, said: “VW has shown utter contempt, not just for the rights and health of their UK consumers but also for the environment. This legal action is the best opportunity that British customers will have for holding VW to account over this scandal.”

Mary Creagh MP, a Labour politician and chair of the House of Commons environmental audit committee, said: “In the US Volkswagen faces multibillion-dollar payouts to drivers in environmental fines and in compensating motorists who purchased vehicles with cheat devices.

“Last July the Commons environmental audit committee called on the transport secretary to measure the contribution that Volkswagen’s cheat devices made to meeting UK emissions standards, and use the results with a view to pursuing court action in the UK.

“In the absence of government action, it is inevitable that motorists would take matters into their own hands and pursue private action in the courts.”

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has previously called for the capital’s drivers to be compensated, including £2.5m for Transport for London in lost congestion charge payments.