What are the rules around phone network EU roaming charges and which are free?

·4-min read
With Three joining the list of networks to bring back roaming fees for using data in Europe, we look at the costs for all of the main providers (Lauren Hurley/PA) (PA Archive)
With Three joining the list of networks to bring back roaming fees for using data in Europe, we look at the costs for all of the main providers (Lauren Hurley/PA) (PA Archive)

Phone companies are taking advantage of post-Brexit deregulation to battle customers into racking up large roaming bills on EU holidays, Martin Lewis has warned.

At the end of June, a wide range of customer protections that had been introduced after Brexit expired, and, as a result, phone networks are no longer required to send customers a message with pricing details when they begin roaming.

Networks also no longer need to provide protection against inadvertent roaming.

Customers can build up huge bills in a matter of minutes, without even being aware that they are using their data, due to ‘data-hungry smartphones’.

MoneySavingExpert.com has called on telecoms regulator Ofcom and the Government to tighten the rules after some post-Brexit consumer protections expired.

Here’s everything you need to know about phone network EU roaming charges.

What are the rules around EU roaming charges?

Legal obligations for operators around roaming ended on June 30 this year, which means firms no longer have to send customers a text message with pricing details when they begin roaming, operate a monthly cap on data roaming fees, or provide protection against inadvertent roaming.

Some of the UK’s biggest networks have reintroduced data roaming charges in Europe after the UK left the EU, and Mr Lewis said that mobile phone companies could not be trusted to self-regulate, as some operators promised not to reintroduce roaming charges after the UK left Brexit, but have now done so.

He has now called on the Government and regulators to step in, saying: “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.”

MoneySavingExpert’s report also raised concerns about different providers using different definitions of a ‘day’ of roaming, which it said caused confusion and risked unexpected costs.

The report revealed that while some operators define a day as 24-hours from first use, others define it as anything up to 11.59 pm UK time the same day, which means someone who signed up at 11:58 pm the same day would only get a minute’s worth of data before needing to pay again.

It also revealed that this is not explained in arrival text messages.

“We need to ban a daily roaming fee charged for use ‘up to 11.59 pm’ without even mentioning in which time zone,” Mr Lewis said.

“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.”

Which networks have free roaming in the EU?

O2 has opted to cover its Europe Zone in its tariffs.

This means your data (subject to your roaming limit), minutes, and text allowances will work in the Europe Zone just like they do in the United Kingdom.

The Europe Zone data allowance is capped at 25GB, so, if your current allowance comes in at over this, you’ll only be able to use 25GB of it before you start to accumulate costs.

Which networks charge extra for roaming in the EU?

You can use your minutes, texts and data allowances in the European roaming zone with EE for an additional £2 a day or for £10 a month with a Roam Abroad add-on.

Vodafone has also reintroduced charges for Britons using their mobile plan in European countries.

Most of the big mobile phone companies, including EE, Sky Mobile, Three and Vodafone, have reintroduced EU roaming charges, with giffgaff and Tesco Mobile the latest names to announce contract changes.

Giffgaff told its customers that from 26 July, they can only use up to 5GB of data a month in the EU, and above that level they will be charged 10p a MB.

Giffgaff said it had “taken the decision to mitigate some of that cost, so that we can at least give our members up to 5GB to roam in the EU, at no extra cost”.