Some EE and BT Mobile customers who fail credit checks can't use their UK minutes, texts and data when travelling in Europe – despite new rules coming in this summer aimed at letting you use your UK allowance for free elsewhere in the EU.
The problem's arisen because the telecoms companies put three or six-month worldwide roaming bans on new customers who fail credit checks when applying but are still offered a mobile contract. The firms say these policies are to "protect" customers and reduce their own commercial risk.
BT Mobile and EE, which is part of the BT Group, have kept the roaming bans in place within the EU as well as beyond, even after the introduction of 'free' EU roaming. Under the new rules brought in on 15 June, mobile users shouldn't be charged extra fees for using their UK allowance of minutes, texts or (most) data when in the EU.
BT says it will consider lifting the ban on a case-by-case basis, while EE says some affected customers can pay an extra deposit to be allowed to roam.
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'It seems strange as I wouldn't be charged extra when roaming'
We were alerted to this issue by BT Mobile customer Robert, 28, from London, who first discovered he was unable to roam while abroad.
He said: "I took out my contract in May 2017 unaware that I had the block in place. When I recently travelled to Italy [in August], I had no connection at all to a network. I spoke to customer service and was informed that the block was in place.
"They've given me a credit allowance [in the UK] but are not allowing me to go roaming in the EU, which seems a bit strange as there wouldn't be extra charges."
Robert has now escalated his case to Ombudsman Services and is hoping to be able to leave his contract penalty-free.
What do EE and BT say?
An EE spokesperson told us customers who fail a credit check will be asked to pay a £50 deposit to be able to roam – returned after three months of regular bill payments – or in the most extreme cases will be offered a basic 'no roaming' Sim-only contract.
He said: "All of these options are in place to provide the greatest range of choice to all of our customers, even those who have had a poor credit history, as well as protecting them from further financial stress and us from fraud and the risk of bad debt."
A BT spokesperson said a "small number" of its customers were barred from roaming in the EU, adding: "It's our policy for new contract customers to undergo a credit check. If a customer fails a credit check then we will introduce a bar for a period of six months which is aimed at protecting both our customers and reducing our commercial risk.
"A customer is notified during the purchase process if they have failed the credit check and it is then up to them to choose if they wish to go ahead and sign up as a BT Mobile customer initially on a domestic-only Sim contract.
"If we lift the bar, which covers not just the EU but rest-of-the-world roaming and international direct dial, this exposes the customer to racking up more charges."
A spokesperson for regulator Ofcom told MoneySavingExpert.com that providers don't have to offer a roaming service, but if they do the service must comply with the EU rules.
What about other networks?
The other big three mobile providers – O2, Three and Vodafone – told us they don't restrict roaming for customers who fail credit checks, and they don't offer 'no roaming' contracts.
If you apply for a mobile contract with one of these firms and fail the credit check, you will usually be unable to take out a contract. In the case of Three, you may still be able to take out a contract if you pay a deposit – and in that case you will be able to roam.