The Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) has ruled a class action legal claim against Visa and Mastercard seeking repayment of card fees to travel and hospitality firms is “necessary”.
The Tribunal published its ruling following a three-day preliminary hearing of the reasons for the claim in early April.
However, the Tribunal has invited lawyers pursuing the claim to revise their proposals after providing detailed guidance and clarifications.
Specialist law firm Harcus Parker launched the claim for repayment of ‘multilateral interchange fees’ (MIFs) charged by Visa and Mastercard on corporate card transactions and overseas visitors’ card payments in April last year.
The claim alleges Visa and Mastercard forced banks to agree to a level of MIFs which are “anti-competitive and unlawful”.
Lawyers at Harcus Parker estimate the collective claim could be worth in excess of £1.5 billion to travel and hospitality businesses.
The fees, which businesses pay to banks, are set by Visa and Mastercard and make up most of the merchant service charges (MSCs) banks levy on card payments. Visa and Mastercard then receive ‘scheme fees’ from the banks.
Harcus Parker announced in February that it is seeking to expand its claims against the global payment processors with a lawsuit on behalf of all UK businesses claiming billions of pounds-worth of payments and damages for card fees.
In a statement following the Tribunal ruling, Harcus Parker said: “The CAT has accepted that proceedings are necessary to enable access to justice for the many merchants who would otherwise struggle to obtain redress, and rejected Mastercard and Visa’s arguments that collective proceedings were not necessary for this purpose.
“The CAT has invited us to revise our proposals for this important claim.
“We are grateful for the CAT’s detailed guidance and clarifications, which we are studying closely, and we will advise soon how we propose to take this case forwards.”
A spokesperson for Mastercard described the claim as “fundamentally flawed”, saying: “We’re encouraged by the court’s decision and believe that if a revised claim is made, it should equally fail.”
Mastercard suggested the claim “has never been about helping businesses – it’s lawyers and their financial backers out to make money for themselves”.
Launching the claim last year, Harcus Parker competition litigation partner Jeremy Robinson explained: “We’re making a stand against unlawful interchange fees.
“Both the UK Supreme Court and the Court of Justice of the EU have condemned this practice for consumer cards. We want to ensure businesses across the UK are properly compensated.
“Businesses in the travel, hospitality, retail and luxury sectors are particularly hurt by Mastercard and Visa’s fees.”
A multilateral interchange fee of up to £1.80 is charged on every £100 spent on corporate cards or cards used by overseas visitors.
Abta, the Advantage Travel Partnership, inbound association UKinbound, hospitality association UKHospitality, and industry lobby group the Tourism Alliance are among groups to have backed the claim, which is financed by third-party litigation funder Bench Walk Advisers and is fully insured.
UK businesses can register interest in the claim at www.commercialcardclaim.co.uk
Those with an annual pre-Covid turnover of £100 million or more should opt into the claim. Businesses with a lower turnover are automatically included unless they opt out.