Northern Ireland news

Mobile roaming charges: How the new changes will affect you

As more people start to book summer holidays, mobile phone customers are being warned they may face extra charges when using their devices on mainland Europe. Claire Simpson looks at the latest information on post-Brexit roaming charges

Three of the UK's biggest mobile phone networks are reintroducing roaming charges in mainland Europe this year

Three of the four biggest mobile phone companies in the UK are reintroducing roaming fees for customers travelling to the European Union, a year after Brexit.

As thousands of holidaymakers prepare to book long-awaited breaks after almost two years of the pandemic, mobile operators are rolling out new charges over the next few months.

Customers used to have to pay heavy penalties on top of their monthly contracts for using their phones in the European Union.

For years, some holidaymakers reported being faced with bills of thousands of pounds for using their phones while abroad.

However, in July 2017 roaming charges were abolished in the European Economic Area - EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

The move meant that customers could call, text or use their data allowance in any EU country.

But since the UK officially left the EU in January 2021, British mobile phone companies have not been legally required to provide free roaming.

The Brexit trade deal, signed in December 2020 did not include protection against roaming charges.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection policy at Which?, has said the UK and EU should agree a deal to halt roaming fees.

"As the UK continues to negotiate trade deals, it should grasp the opportunity to lower the cost of roaming for consumers travelling around the world," she said.

"The UK and EU should also urgently strike a deal on roaming charges to stop companies chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to and to prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter."

Initially, the UK’s biggest operators – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – all said they had no plans to reintroduce roaming charges.

But some companies announced last year they would start to charge customers.

These charges are now coming into effect.

The changes will see UK consumers already hit by soaring inflation - now at an almost 30-year high - and a sharp rise in living costs.

Three, EE and Vodafone will all start charging holidaymakers extra for using their phones on mainland Europe.

Only Virgin Media O2 has announced it will not reintroduce charges.

However, there is some good news for anyone living in border counties or travelling to the Republic.

Roaming charges will not affect anyone journeying to the Republic.

Operators also have to take "reasonable steps" to avoid Northern Ireland customers being charged for accidental roaming if their phone locks on to a signal from the Republic.

And operators must inform their customers how to avoid inadvertent roaming in border areas.

Under Ofcom rules, providers must publish details of their standard tariffs, including standard roaming charges, on their website.

However, the communications regulator has advised customers who have any roaming queries to speak to their provider before they travel.

Three of the UK’s biggest mobile networks are reintroducing roaming charges

How do the charges differ per company?

THREE

From May, Three customers who joined or upgraded from October 2021 will have to pay £2 a day to use their minutes and data in EU countries, apart from the Republic.

EE

From March, EE is charging pay monthly customers £2 a day for European roaming.

The charges come into effect for customers who joined or upgraded their contracts after July 7 2021.

Customers travelling for longer periods can buy 30-day packages.

VODAFONE

The company plans to reintroduce roaming charges by the end of this month.

Roaming charges will differ according to a customer's contract.

Some of the company's Xtra plans include free roaming.

Other charges cost £2 a day for roaming. Customers can buy eight-day and 15-day passes available for £1 a day.

Vodafone's cheapest sim-only deals only allow customers to make emergency calls outside the UK and Ireland.

What about data use?

There are "fair use limits" on the amount of time that customers are allowed to use their phones abroad.

Customers will be charged extra if they spend more than half their time abroad.

Data limits also come under fair use restrictions.

O2 customers have a monthly data limit of 25GB and will be charged £3.50 for each GB after that.

Vodafone will charge £3.13 per GB over its 25GB limit.

Three's fair use limit is 12GB and customers will be charged £3 per GB above that.

Under UK law, customers can only be charged up to £45 a month for data roaming.

This means customers cannot continue to use mobile data services when roaming unless they actively chose to continue spending.

Customers must receive alerts when they reach 80 per cent and 100 per cent of their data allowance.

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