As if we don’t have enough problems at the moment, roaming charges for using a mobile in the EU are threatening to make a comeback.
Anyone planning a winter holiday in Europe this year should prepare to pay more to use their mobile phone while away, as roaming charges are due to make a very unwelcome return. Although EE and Vodafone had indicated repeatedly in the run-up to Brexit that they had no intention of reintroducing roaming charges for UK customers travelling to mainland Europe, they recently announced that customers will have to pay to use their phones in the EU from January onwards.
In the meantime, rival operators O2 and Three have also informed their customers that they face new fair usage data restrictions while in Europe. In total, the moves have puzzled experts as to whether this marks a return to the heavy roaming bills that ruined plenty of holidays in the past.
In 2017, mobile networks in EU countries were banned from charging customers more to use their phones in member countries. The right to make calls, send texts and, most importantly, use data allowances anyhere in Europe, as at home, was one of the most popular pieces of European legislation in the UK.
Yet, surprisingly, the Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU failed to include continued protection against roaming charges, with the result that the legislation that prevented the charges no longer applies here. The first charges have started appearing, eight months on. Worse still, the regulator, Ofcom, has said it has no powers to prevent it from happening.
Here is what is known so far:
Many EE customers going to any of the 47 countries that EE considers to be in Europe will have to pay a new £2 per day flat fee, which will permit them access to their UK bundle of calls, data and texts while away.
Initially, the charge will only be paid by those who either joined EE as a new customer, or upgraded to a new contract, on or after 7 July 2021. Customers who signed a new two-year contract before that date will be unaffected until their deal expires.
Customers will also have the option of signing up to its Roam Abroad add-on, including roaming in the EU, for £10 per month, and won’t have to pay the £2 daily charge. But if they fail to opt out once home, they will be charged each month. None of this applies to visitors to Ireland, who will be able to use their call and data allowances as if at home.
Similarly, from 6 January 2022, new and upgrading customers who signed up after 11 August this year will pay a new £2 daily charge to roam in its 49 European destinations. However, customers can choose to prebuy an eight or fifteen-day Roaming Pass for £8 and £15 respectively, reducing the cost to £1 per day. Vodafone is also keeping free roaming to Ireland, subject to the fair usage 25GB cap which applies in all destinations.
Existing customers who remain on their current price plan will not be impacted by the changes.
O2 and Three
Both companies have said they currently have no plans to introduce the charges detailed above, but O2 has said it will impose an additional ‘fair use’ charge if customers use more than 25GB of data in one month while abroad. Three has cut its fair use data limit from 20GB per month to 12GB per month in Europe, with a £3 charge per extra gigabyte if customers need more data.
What about the rest?
Other telecoms providers such as Plusnet and Virgin Media have all said there are no plans to reintroduce EU roaming charges, but how long that will continue is anyone’s guess.
Ray Ali, a mobiles expert at Uswitch.com, says the reintroduction of roaming charges across the board would be a ‘massive blow’ for customers. Following Brexit, he says, mobile users were led to believe there were no immediate plans to reimpose charges. But the unanimity among providers has already begun to break down, with EE and Vodafone announcing the reintroduction of charges for customers travelling in the EU.
Ali adds that some providers piggyback off larger networks, so if O2, for example, reimposes charges, it could create a domino effect for firms such as giffgaff and Tesco Mobile, which operate through their network.