Ofcom must improve safeguards for mobile roaming in the EU

A new report from MSE has called on Ofcom to improve consumer protections for mobile roaming within the EU, following research by the organization which found that consumers always risk being caught off guard by unexpected roaming costs. But operators don’t help by adopting different definitions of a “daytime“.

Previously, consumers in the UK were largely free to use their national quotas (calls, texts and data), at no additional cost, when roaming in the EU. Take note that even under the so-called “freeroaming rules, a Proper Use Policy (FUP) with data caps will generally always apply in order to prevent abuse (i.e. not all EU countries offer unlimited data plans on their national plans).

However, the recent EU-UK Trade Agreement did not guarantee free roaming in the EU for the future (EU policy), but it contained “measures to encourage cooperation in promoting fair and transparent tariffs for international mobile roaming services so as to foster the growth of trade between the parties and improve consumer welfare.

The UK government has also introduced limited protection against the risk of future EU roaming BILL SHOCKS by adding a legal cap of £45 + VAT on roaming charges, including associated SMS warnings/messages about roaming charges. Around the same time, most mobile operators were also pledging to keep roaming free in the EU after Brexit, but many ended up doing an about-face last year.

At present, O2 (Virgin Mobile) is the only major mobile operator that has not reintroduced roaming charges in the EU (which often cost £2 per day) and some MVNO operators (iD Mobile, Giffgaff, Smarty etc.) also still offer it. Despite this, many people expect the last holdouts to eventually follow suit. On top of that, government legal protections became voluntary on June 30, 2022, but we’d be surprised if carriers took them down.

The new MSE report – ‘The risk of homelessness‘ – looked at the market and highlighted a number of issues, which they rightly believe Ofcom should address.

Report Recommendations

MSE recommends that Ofcom, with all necessary support from DCMS, immediately reinstate fallen consumer roaming protections, to ensure that consumers do not rely on voluntary agreements for protections that were previously provided by the law.

These protections are:

• Suppliers should send customers an SMS with price information when they start moving.

• The cap of £45 (excluding VAT) per month on data roaming charges.

• Providers should educate customers on how to avoid inadvertent roaming.

In doing so, Ofcom should make further changes to the rules so that:

• Ideally, all providers should use the same definition of a day – that a “day” is a 24-hour period from first use. At a minimum, a day defined as “until 11:59 p.m. on the same day” must be deleted.

• All providers should be mandated to clearly explain how they define a “day” in the arrival SMS that customers receive.

• Providers should alert customers at least one hour before the end of the “daily” roaming period, so they are aware that they will incur additional charges if they continue to use mobile services.

A key point above concerns how some operators define a “daytimedifferently for roaming charges, and they don’t always express it directly to consumers as part of an SMS. For example, EE defines a “daytimeas being until 11.59pm UK time, which creates a problem when it comes to traveling across different time zones and also means that anyone paying the fee just before midnight might not realize that it does not have 24 hours of use!

In comparison, Vodafone and Three UK define a “daytime” as 24 hours after first use (i.e. it lasts for 24 hours from the time it isor purchase the EU roaming add-on). Naturally, the report asks Ofcom to ensure that all operators define a day by this method, rather than others.

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “I have no faith in mobile companies self-regulating. When we left the EU they promised not to reintroduce European roaming charges…but most of the big networks broke that promise. Our report therefore calls on Ofcom not to trust voluntary promises – we must reintroduce formal and mandatory consumer protections.” It’s hard to disagree.

NOTE: Please try to keep your comments polite, on topic (focused on UK mobile operators) and avoid getting lost in another ugly political troll battle – on both sides of the fence. We may need to remove comments if there is abuse between posters.

About Sandra A. Powell

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