New mobile roaming rules to protect UK holidaymakers

25 March 2024 17:32   By Lyndsey Burton

Ofcom has introduced new rules to help protect UK consumers from inadvertent roaming charges.

From 1st October 2024, mobile providers will have to tell customers when they start roaming, and include information on costs.

Ofcom found as many as one in five UK holidaymakers are unaware they could face extra charges when abroad, and a similar number said they did no research on roaming charges before travelling.

The new rules aim to help protect customers from bill shock now they're no longer protected by EU roaming laws.

mobile internet use on holiday

Roaming protections

Since the UK left the European Union customers have lost protections offered by EU roaming rules, including the 'roam like at home' pricing tariffs and roaming charges alerts.

Ofcom's introduction of new rules helps to reintroduce some of these protections against roaming bill charges, and will apply from 1st October 2024.

Mobile operators will now be obliged to inform customers when they start roaming - typically by sending a text message - as well as to improve upon the information they're sending customers about the roaming charges that will apply to them.

When customers start roaming, they must be sent information including any roaming charges, as well as:

  • Any fair use limits or time limits that apply
  • The ability to set a spend cap to limit their spend
  • Where to find additional information about roaming

These messages should ensure customers better understand any charges they could be incurring from using their phone abroad.

Despite many operators having continued to offer alerts on a voluntary basis since the EU rules were rescinded, Ofcom found as many as 19% of UK holidaymakers were unaware they could face extra charges for using their phone abroad, and 18% said they don't find out about roaming charges before travelling.

Inadvertent roaming

In addition to helping those choosing to go abroad and use their phone in a foreign country, customers living in places such as Northern Ireland close to the border have also been affected by changes in roaming rules since Brexit.

Ofcom research highlighted how as many as one in seven (14%) of UK mobile customers roamed inadvertently, simply because their mobile phone picked up a network across the border.

This can happen along the Southern coast where customers inadvertently roam to a French network, as well as those living in Northern Ireland who roam to a network in the Republic of Ireland.

Along with rules on informing customers when they're roaming, Ofcom is also requiring providers to:

  • Give information on how to avoid inadvertent roaming, particularly in border regions, which could include alerting customers to the likelihood of inadvertent roaming in areas where its known to happen
  • Help customers to reduce or limit their spend on roaming while in the UK. This could include treating mobile usage in Ireland the same as in the UK.

While these additional points are useful, they're more open to interpretation for a provider to meet them.

Roaming charges

O2 still offer 'roam like at home' tariffs, with customers able to use their UK allowance of data, minutes and texts in Europe without incurring additional charges.

However, data use is limited to 25GB, so it's still possible customers could exceed this limit while abroad and incur charges, although O2 say they let customers know if this happens. If customers do exceed this limit they'll be charged £3.50 per GB regardless of their UK allowance.

Vodafone already include roaming in the Republic of Ireland at no extra on all their pay monthly plans, and many plans also include roaming in Europe or this can be added for £2.25 per day or £15 for 15 days.

EE and Three UK also include roaming in the Republic of Ireland at no extra cost, while other EU countries are charged a flat rate of £2.29 and £2 per day respectively for using a UK allowance overseas.

So, while O2 may offer inclusive roaming already, the data limit of 25GB is worth keeping an eye on, especially for those at risk of inadvertent roaming, where usage above this cap would be charged at £3.50 per 1GB.


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