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Mobile firms refuse to rule out return of roaming charges after Brexit

Mobile firms refuse to rule out return of roaming charges after Brexit

Just two out of 12 major UK mobile phone providers have so far committed to keeping roaming in the European Union 'free' after Brexit, MoneySavingExpert.com can reveal – meaning millions could be charged more to use their phone in Europe.

Since 2017, mobile phone firms have been banned from charging you extra fees to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts or (most) data when in the European Union. But once we leave the EU, this will no longer be the case.

If the UK Government agrees a 'deal' with the EU before Brexit, then the current mobile roaming rules are expected to continue until the end of 2020 at least. But if the UK leaves without a deal, the Government's warned roaming charges could return immediately – it will be down to the individual firms to decide.

Now with less than two months to go until the UK exits the EU, a MoneySavingExpert investigation has found only two providers – Three and Smarty, which is owned by Three – have categorically ruled out reintroducing roaming charges after Brexit.

At least 10 firms, which between them are estimated to have at least 85% of UK mobile users as customers, say they have "no plans" to change their roaming policies – but can't rule out the return of roaming charges.

For full help on cutting the cost of using your mobile abroad, see our Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide. And for a rundown of what Brexit means for mortgages, currency, your rights and more, see our 25 Brexit need-to-knows.

How will mobile roaming rules change after Brexit?

Right now, mobile roaming in the EU is surcharge-free. That means you can make calls, send texts and use mobile data services for no more than you would be charged when in the UK (though there are 'fair usage' rules which means some with larger data packages can still face extra fees to use their full data allowance, which is why we call it 'free' roaming). See the  Cheap Mobile Roaming guide for more info.
 
However, these rules are based on EU regulations, which won't apply to the UK after Brexit on 29 March. So what happens after that depends on how we leave the EU:
 
  • If there's a Brexit deal, 'free' roaming should continue until 2020 at least. The Government's said the current roaming rules would continue during any transition period, which at the moment would be expected to last until the end of 2020.

  • If there's no Brexit deal, roaming charges could return immediately. The Government's said EU mobile operators would be able to charge UK firms for providing services, and UK firms could pass these on to customers, which means surcharge-free roaming in the EU would no longer be guaranteed. Instead, roaming fees will likely be determined by individual firms.

What are mobile phone providers planning?

We asked 16 major mobile phone firms if they can guarantee customers will be able to roam in Europe without additional charges after Brexit. Two said roaming will remain 'free' after Brexit, 10 were unable to rule out roaming charges returning, and four have yet to respond. Here's a full breakdown:

Could EU roaming charges return after Brexit?

Provider Is 'free' roaming guaranteed post-Brexit? What it says
Asda Mobile No response No response yet – we'll update this story when we hear back.
BT Mobile No "Doesn't have any plans to change" cost of roaming, but adds: "We hope Brexit negotiations will help ensure that UK operators can continue to offer low prices."
EE No "Doesn't have any plans to change" cost of roaming, but adds: "We hope Brexit negotiations will help ensure that UK operators can continue to offer low prices."
Giffgaff No "No plans" to introduce roaming charges, but when pressed couldn't guarantee this.
iD Mobile No "Too soon to assess the implications of Brexit on roaming regulations", but currently has no plans to charge.
O2 No "No plans" to charge – it's "working closely with the Government and other European operators to try and protect the current arrangements."
Plusnet Mobile No "No plans" to change – it hopes "Brexit negotiations will help ensure that UK operators can continue to offer great value."
Sky Mobile No response No response yet – we'll update this story when we hear back.
Smarty Yes "Committed to maintain the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit."
Talk Mobile No "No plans" to introduce charges. It says: "We very much hope arrangements can be made which will ensure we can continue to offer UK consumers our roam-free service."
Tesco Mobile No "No plans" to introduce charges, but "monitoring" the situation and will give customers plenty of notice if things change.
The Phone Co-op No response No response yet – we'll update this story when we hear back.
Three Yes Says 'free' roaming will remain "regardless of Brexit negotiations." Customers will be able to use "their usual allowances when they travel within the EU."
TPO No response No response yet – we'll update this story when we hear back.
Virgin Mobile No Is "monitoring the progress of Brexit negotiations closely" – customers will be notified in advance of any change to its roaming policy after Brexit.
Vodafone No "No plans" to introduce charges. It says: "We very much hope arrangements can be made which will ensure we can continue to offer UK consumers our roam-free service."

My provider won't guarantee free roaming will continue – what can I do?

At the moment, no mobile phone provider has said it will definitely introduce roaming charges after Brexit – and if the Government does agree a Brexit deal with the EU, the current roaming rules are likely to remain until at least the end of 2020 in any case.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom says mobile firms would have to give at least a month's notice to customers before reintroducing roaming charges if they would cause "material detriment" to the customer – and if a firm changes your contract and the new terms cause "material detriment", you can usually leave your contract penalty-free.

But there's no set definition of what counts as "material detriment", so it's uncertain what warning customers would have if roaming charges were reintroduced or what rights they'd have to switch away. 

If roaming charges were to return it would still be worth carefully weighing up if the cost of roaming is significant enough to make you leave your contract – alternative options could include getting a separate cheap PAYG Sim to use abroad, or even just leaving your phone at home.

We're likely to know more about what's going to happen in the coming weeks – we'll continue to follow this issue closely.

'Keep a close eye on this if you're travelling post-Brexit'

MoneySavingExpert.com news and features editor Steve Nowottny said: "As with so many things dependent on Brexit, we simply don't know at the moment whether mobile roaming charges could return. But with less than two months to go, and still no clear idea of whether we'll be leaving the EU with or without a deal, our investigation shows most mobile providers haven't ruled out bringing them back.

"For now, the best thing may be to watch and wait. But if you are planning to travel post-Brexit, keep a close eye on this – if your provider announces it's introducing charges, you may have to act quickly to avoid being stung with an unexpected bill."