UK allows $18.5 bln case against Mastercard

A landmark UK Supreme Court ruling on Friday (Dec 11) has allowed an $18.5 billion class action to proceed against Mastercard.

The allegations are that it overcharged more than 46 million people in Britain over a 15-year period.

The case centres on so-called interchange fees which credit and debit card companies say they levy on merchants' banks to cover the costs of card services, security and innovation.

The complex case comes after the court dismissed a Mastercard appeal.

It sets the scene for Britain's first mass consumer claim brought under a new legal regime.

Walter Merricks, a lawyer who is leading the action, said "Mastercard has been a sustained competition law breaker".

He alleges the fees were excessive between 1992 and 2008.

Mastercard said the claim was being driven by "hit and hope" U.S. lawyers.

The Supreme Court ruling sends the case back to the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

Mastercard said it would ask the court to "avert the serious risk of the new collective action regime going down the wrong path with a case which is fundamentally flawed".

A hearing is expected next year.

One legal expert said the ruling could trigger many more large claims and a shift towards a class action culture associated with the U.S.