Mobile roaming in EU: Beware paying for a day but only getting a minute
MSE warns of potential sharp practices for UK customers as post-Brexit protections end
Post-Brexit roaming protections have now ended and most major networks have reintroduced roaming fees in the EU, ultimately leaving mobile users with weaker rights and many with higher costs. The UK's biggest consumer website, MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE), has today published a report containing worrying findings on EU roaming – along with its recommendations for regulator Ofcom and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Consumers could be caught out by unexpected roaming costs after a key piece of EU legislation – carried over temporarily after the UK left the EU – recently expired.
The key findings from the report:
- Three of the four major mobile networks now charge for roaming in the EU. EE, Three and Vodafone (plus Sky Mobile and Voxi) have reintroduced £2 'daily' EU roaming charges for customers to access their UK allowance on the continent, after originally saying they would not. Some smaller piggyback networks have introduced charges too.
- Some pay for a day but only get a minute. Different providers use different definitions of a 'day' of roaming – causing customer confusion and risking unexpected costs. Most state 24 hours from first use, while EE defines a day's use in the EU as anything up to 11.59pm UK time, the same day. So if you sign up at 11.58pm, you would only get a minute's worth. This is not explained in its arrival text to customers.
Some providers measure a day one way in the EU, but bizarrely use a different calculation for travel elsewhere. This can even vary between packages offered by the same network – for example:
o With Vodafone, EU roaming costs £2 a 'day', lasting 24 hours from first use. Yet rest of the world roaming costs £6 a 'day', which only lasts until 11.59pm in the capital of the country being visited.
o With Three, EU roaming is £2 a 'day', which is also 24 hours from first use. But Three also offers a £5 a 'day' 'data passport' for unlimited data in the UK and 89 destinations, but only up to 11.59pm UK time.
- Key post-Brexit EU protections have ended, leaving consumers at risk of sharp practice. On 30 June 2022, the legal obligations (1) on firms ended, so they no longer have to:
a) Send customers an SMS with pricing information when they begin roaming.
b) Operate a monthly cap on data roaming fees – previously £45 (excluding VAT) per month.
c) Provide protections against inadvertent roaming – for example, when signal from a country across the border is stronger than the one the customer is in.
The networks have said they will still opt to follow the rules for now but, asks Martin Lewis, for how long?
In the report, Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "I've no faith in mobile firms to self-regulate. When we left the EU, they promised not to reintroduce European roaming charges… yet most of the big networks have broken that promise. So our report calls on Ofcom to not trust voluntary promises – we need to reintroduce the formal, compulsory consumer protections.
"And it's time too, to define time. We need to ban a daily roaming fee charged for use 'up to 11.59pm' without even mentioning in which time zone. Instead, we recommend all providers must define a roaming 'day' as a 24-hour period from first use, clearly explain that in the arrival text, and alert customers at least an hour before the daily charges end."
For more details and recommendations, see the full report – The roaming risk: how lapsed protections could cost consumers.
MSE will be sending the full report and findings to telecoms regulator Ofcom and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Notes to editors
(1) Retained Regulation (EU) No 531/2012 ('The Roaming Regulation'), as amended by The Mobile Roaming (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.
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