The credit card company Mastercard and five other payment companies have been fined a total of 33 million pounds in the United Kingdom. The companies would have formed an illegal cartel in the provision of prepaid cards.
The UK Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) found that the companies had violated competition law. Mastercard, Allpay, Advanced Payment Solutions (APS), Prepaid Financial Services (PFS) and Sulion would have agreed between 2012 and 2018 not to compete with each other for contracts with local governments.
The fines for each of the companies are the following: Mastercard: 31.6 million pounds, PFS: 916,746 pounds, Allpay: 28,553 pounds (34,250 euros), APS: 755,419 pounds and Sulion: 572,879 pounds.
Between 2014 and 2016, a second cartel was formed between APS and PFS. The companies agreed not to target each other’s public sector customers when a contract had to be renewed, including through a tender.
According to the regulator, the payment cards were used to distribute social benefits to vulnerable members of society, such as the homeless, victims of domestic violence and asylum seekers.
Benefits could be loaded onto the cards and used to pay for goods and services without the holder needing access to a bank account.
“This case is very serious, as the cartel has led to a reduction in competition and the choice of local governments,” PSR director Chris Hemsley said in a statement. “This means that they may have missed out on cheaper or better quality products.”
“This investigation and the substantial fines we have imposed give a clear signal that the PSR absolutely does not tolerate cartel behavior. We will act rigorously and enforce the law to ensure that there is effective competition in the payment markets.”