Lawyers have announced the commencement of a claim against MasterCard over card charges that could be worth up to £19bn.

The claim, reputed to be the biggest in UK legal history, will be one of the first to be filed under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which enables a collective damages claim to be brought on behalf of a class of people who suffered loss.

The company has said it ‘firmly disagrees’ with the basis of the claim.

MasterCard was found in 2014 to have infringed European Union law by imposing charges on the use of MasterCard debit and credit cards.

Walter Merricks, former chief financial services ombudsman, will be the representative of the class of UK consumers claiming they have suffered loss.

Merricks has instructed litigation firm Quinn Emanuel on the case. Its team is being led by partners Boris Bronfentrinker and Kate Vernon. Competition silks Paul Harris QC of Monckton Chambers and Marie Demetriou QC of Brick Court Chambers have also been instructed.

US firm Quinn Emanuel said MasterCard had the option to accept that its card fees were set at an anticompetitive level and reach a settlement with the European Commission to lower its fees.

The firm said MasterCard chose not to settle and instead ‘imposed unlawfully high card fees for nearly 16 years and engaged in a legal battle for nearly 10 years’.

It added: ‘MasterCard lost this battle at every level and showed complete disregard for its cardholders and consumers at large, focusing instead on generating unlawful profits.

‘Consumers were unaware of the level of these fees or that they were illegal. The fees were a significant cost for retailers that was then passed on through increased prices of goods and services. All UK consumers, including cash purchasers - not just MasterCard holders - have lost money as a result.’

Quinn Emanuel says expert analysis of publicly available data shows consumers may be owed as much as £19bn.

In a statement, Mastercard said: ‘MasterCard firmly disagrees with the basis of this legal claim. Electronic payments deliver real value to people online, in store and everywhere.

‘MasterCard is committed to providing ever-more convenient, safe and secure payments to all our customers, including consumers, retailers, governments and banks.’