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Holidaymakers set to receive clear alerts on roaming fees

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The telecoms regulator proposes to require all UK mobile companies to tell their customers when they start roaming and how much they’ll be charged to protect holidaymakers from unexpected bills.

Holidaymakers using their phones overseas are now charged roaming fees following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

With the ‘roam like at home’ deal now scrapped, holidaymakers are facing charges of up to £2 a day to make or receive calls, texts or surf the internet.

But many travellers are unaware of roaming charges and in a bid to protect people from unexpected bills, regulator Ofcom has proposed mandatory roaming alerts.

As part of the proposals to make sure holidaymakers have essential information about overseas mobile use, new Ofcom rules and guidance would require all UK mobile companies to tell customers when they start roaming, how much it will cost them and any action they can take to limit their spend.

Personalised alerts would include details on:

  • Roaming charges that will apply including specifying any fair use data limits and the time period that applies to any daily charges
  • Any mobile bill limit the customer has in place
  • Where to find free-to-access additional detail on roaming charges, fair use policies and how to monitor, reduce and limit spend.

Ofcom said that post-Brexit, many companies have voluntarily continued to send their customers alerts when they start roaming, but its review uncovered “concerns” that the information provided can be “inconsistent and unclear”.

It found that many people rely on roaming alerts with 94% of travellers being aware of them and 84% reading them. Of those who read their alerts, 94% rate them as either essential or helpful when they first begin to roam and 72% modify their behaviour when they see one – such as connecting to Wi-Fi (29%), using less data (26%) and switching off data roaming (24%).

Its research also showed that nearly one in five holidaymakers are unaware they could face extra charges when using handset abroad, while 18% of the 2,108 polled said they didn’t research roaming charges before travelling.

Inadvertent roaming

Inadvertent roaming is when a device connects to a network in a different country even though the customer is not physically in that country. Ofcom research showed that one in seven UK mobile customers experienced this when abroad or still in the UK, including 2% of customers connecting to French networks while on the English coast.

Ofcom said this is a particular issue for people in Northern Ireland, with many thousands of people living in areas that share the border with Ireland. One in five customers in Northern Ireland reported experiencing inadvertent roaming onto networks in Ireland in the last year.

While alerts would warn customers that they are roaming, Ofcom is also proposing additional protections against the impact of inadvertent roaming. These would require mobile providers to:

  • Provide customers with clear information about how to avoid inadvertent roaming, both when in the UK and abroad
  • Have measures in place to enable customers to reduce and/or limit their spend on roaming while in the UK such as offering special tariffs or treating mobile usage in Ireland the same as being in the UK, which some providers are already doing.

‘Holidaymakers won’t be left in the dark on roaming charges’

Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s director of telecoms consumer protection, said: “Millions of UK holidaymakers head abroad every year and want to stay connected on their travels. But without clear information from their provider, they could find themselves facing an unexpected bill for calling home or going online.

“These alerts would mean whichever mobile provider you’re with, you won’t be left in the dark about roaming charges and action you can take to manage your spending.”

The consultation runs till 28 September 2023 and Ofcom plans to publish its decision on this in early 2024.

It added that as providers have previously been required to send roaming alerts, with many doing so voluntarily, they already have systems and processes in place to send them.

But some providers might need to make some changes so it is proposing an implementation period of six months from when it publishes its decision.