UK motorists and businesses who bought a new car between 2006 and 2015 could be in line for compensation after five shipping firms were fined for price fixing.
A class-action claim has been launched following accusations that five major lines responsible for transporting cars for manufacturers colluded to carve up the market and keep prices artificially high.
An estimated 80 per cent of people and companies who bought or leased a car, van or light or medium commercial vehicle between October 2006 and September 2015 could be eligible for a pay-out.
Those behind the claim estimate it is worth in excess of £150 million, with each customer eligible for up to £60 per vehicle.
The claim stems from a ruling by the European Commission (EC) which found carriers MOL, “K” Line, NYK, WWL/EUKOR and CSAV were involved in a cartel that fixed prices, divided customers between them to ensure they each kept certain customers and routes, and reduced capacity in deep sea car carrier services.
That pushed up prices for major brands including BMW, Citroen, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volkswagen, which in turn, the claim argues, affected prices for end buyers.
There is no suggestion the car makers themselves did anything wrong.
Four of the shipping lines were fined a total of £337m by the EC, with MOL exempted for early cooperation with the investigation. Similar cases in Australia, the United States, Japan, Korea, China, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Chile led to fines of more than £586m.
How to check if you are eligible
The group action has been lodged with the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) under the Consumer Rights Act (2015). Because of its nature, the action is an opt-out one, meaning that you will automatically be included if you bought or leased a new vehicle from one of the affected brands in the period from October 18, 2006 to September 6, 2015. Even if you have since sold the vehicle or ended the lease agreement you are still eligible for compensation if the claim progresses.
The action covers customers who bought a car outright or financed/leased one via hire purchase (HP), contract hire arrangement or personal contract purchase (PCP).
Some brands are excluded from the claim, including Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jaguar Land Rover, Mini, Seat and Skoda. A full list of excluded brands can be found here.
Major brands including Vauxhall, Ford and Mercedes-Benz were affected by the shipping lines' cartel (Photo: Shutterstock)
The action is being led by Mark McLaren, who previously worked for Which? and currently sits on the Consumer Panel of the Legal Services Board.
He said: "When UK consumers and businesses purchased or leased a new car, I believe they paid more for the delivery than they should have done.
“I have spent much of my career working in consumer protection and I strongly believe that compensation should be paid when consumers are harmed by such deliberate, unlawful conduct."