Mastercard to push up fees for UK purchases from EU
Credit card giant Mastercard is to raise the fees it charges merchants when UK cardholders buy goods and services from the EU by fivefold.
It has sparked fears that consumer prices could rise if merchants choose to pass on those costs, especially on items not available from UK retailers.
Transactions with airlines, hotels, car rentals and holiday firms based in the EU could all be affected.
Mastercard attributed the move to the UK's decision to leave the EU.
It added that "in practice" UK consumers would not notice the move.
The change affects the "interchange" fees Mastercard sets on behalf of big banks, so that its customers can use their payment networks.
From October, Mastercard said it would increase these fees to 1.5% on every transaction, up from 0.3%.
The EU introduced a cap on such fees in 2015 after concerns they pushed prices up for consumers and unfairly burdened companies.
British customers makes tens of billions of pounds of purchases every year from European merchants on credit cards alone - and the hike in fees from Mastercard will affect the majority of those.
The increase may be relatively small but it's significant, coming at a time when retailers may face extra paperwork and checks - higher costs - for goods coming into the UK.
With Covid restrictions bringing their own challenges, businesses, especially smaller ones, may be compelled to pass on the costs to consumers.
And it's not just items crossing borders. The payments for most items bought on Amazon in the UK are processed via its Luxembourg headquarters.
With the increase not coming in for several months, international companies may look at ways to reclassify UK sales, to avoid the charges.
Mastercard is implementing the rises simply as it's no longer bound by the restrictions imposed by the UK being in the EU. The banks which receive the fees have said in the past that they are invested in areas such as card security and innovation. This time, however, the trade body which represents them has declined to comment on the rises.
But Mastercard said that since the end of the Brexit transition period, the cap no longer applied to many payments between the UK and European Economic Area (which also includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).
"As a result of the UK leaving the EEA, Mastercard will adapt interchange rates on UK cards to the commitments it gave the European Commission in 2019 for non-EEA card transactions," the company said.
"In practice, only EEA merchants making e-commerce sales to UK cardholders will see a change."