Change to EU roaming charges

Ombudsman Jon Lenton explains change to EU roaming charges


One of the major challenges facing the mobile industry in recent years has been “bill shock” – when a customer receives an unexpectedly large bill from their mobile phone provider. We have received a steady stream of complaints from people who have suffered bill shock after using their mobile phone abroad. 

When you use your mobile phone overseas, your mobile phone will automatically “roam” on to one of the networks that operates in the country you are visiting. When you roam, you receive a text informing you of the charges for using the network. The level of charges used to depend upon the agreement your UK provider had reached with the foreign network. Some consumers did not realise how much more expensive it could be to use services when abroad, while others did not realise that their smart phone could consume data even when they themselves were not using the phone. In some of the complaints we reviewed, customers ran up bills of several thousand pounds as a result of using services overseas.

People told us that receiving a very large bill following a trip overseas could be extremely upsetting and some people were caused significant financial difficulties. 

Over the years, measures have been introduced to reduce the chances that someone receives an unexpectedly large bill after visiting another country. The EU limited the amount the networks could charge for calls, texts and data while roaming and required providers to offer a cap which would restrict services after the customer had reached a set limit (of 50 Euros). These measures did have a significant effect, reducing the number of complaints we received relating to bill shock due to data roaming. We do, however, still receive complaints from people who have gone abroad and ran up large bills. Some mobile providers seem to be more effective at protecting their customers from bill shock than others.

In our view, customers who take reasonable care should be able to go abroad and be confident that they are aware of how much they spending when using their mobile phone. We therefore welcome the introduction of new rules abolishing data roaming within the EU. 

From 15 June 2017, mobile users will be able to make calls, send messages and use data anywhere in the EU for the same cost as in the UK – including any free minutes, messages and data included within their tariff. Consumers who have unlimited or very cheap data plans should look out for whether their provider has a fair usage policy for the use of data while abroad. Providers who operate fair usage policies will still be permitted to charge extra for services on some cheaper tariffs when the customer uses more data when overseas than what they would have used when in the UK. We wait to see whether providers decide to introduce fair usage polices and, if so, how they will work in practice. 

The UK is due to leave the EU in 2019. It is too early to say at this stage whether UK citizens will continue to enjoy these new protections after 2019.

Consumers still need to be aware that in the rest of the world outside the EU, they will continue to roam on to other networks and will potentially be charged higher charges for using mobile services compared to when they are in the UK. Always check with your mobile provider before travelling outside of the EU.