Mobile users could be charged more to use their phones abroad, both inside and outside of Europe, in light of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU).
Currently, EU rules dictate that mobile providers can’t charge more than €0.19 per minute for outbound calls, €0.05 for inbound calls, €0.06 per text and €0.20 per megabyte of data when people use their handsets in the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Roaming charges are set to be banned completely in the EU from 15 June 2017 in a move, which is estimated to save UK consumers £1.4 billion a year. See Mobile users to pay less in Europe for more on this.
Outside of Europe, under EU rules all mobile operators have to apply a cut-off limit once you have used €50 (excluding VAT) of data per month, wherever you travel in the world, unless you unless you have agreed to a different limit or you’ve chosen to opt out. You will also receive a warning when you reach 80% of this agreed limit.
But while you’re still covered by these rules for now, the UK’s decision to leave the EU means UK citizens may be excluded from these consumer protections in future, meaning prices could rise. This all depends on the terms of Brexit, which are yet to be agreed.
Peter Earl, head of utilities at comparison website Comparethemarket.com, says: “Until Article 50 is invoked, the UK is still part of the EU and subject to its legislation, including the decision to reduce and ultimately abolish mobile roaming charges.
“Whilst providers won’t be able to increase their charges for mobile use abroad in the near future, there is no guarantee that these arrangements would continue in a UK outside the European Union.”
However, a competitive market should prevent prices rising too quickly, even if the UK ducks out of legislation, says Mr Earl.
“Lots of UK mobile providers have already taken significant steps to offer their customers cost-effective deals when making calls abroad so it may be that this competitive pressure is enough to keep prices low.
“Post exit, any customer who does see their provider increase the cost of roaming fees in Europe should seriously consider moving to a different contract,” he adds.
What the regulator and Government says
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which implements the EU’s roaming rules in the UK says: “Nothing will change overnight as a result of this decision. We’re committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people now that decision has been made."
A spokesperson for Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, tells Moneywise: “We note the result of the EU referendum, and will now work to understand any implications for Ofcom. We will continue to regulate the communications sector under the existing frameworks until any changes are confirmed.”
What providers say
EE was the only mobile provider to say it has no current plans to change its pricing, with a spokesperson from parent company BT saying: “We have no plans to change our pricing as a result of the EU referendum, including our roaming charges.”
A spokesperson for O2 says: “We can’t predict what may happen in the future. We will continue to offer competitive prices to our customers who use their mobile device when they travel overseas.”
A spokesperson for Vodafone says: “It’s far too early to comment on specifics but, as we said before the referendum, we remain committed to supporting our UK customers regardless of the outcome, now and in the future.”
Three has not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.
Cut roaming costs now
To cut the cost of roaming charges when you’re abroad, Ofcom recommends:
- Downloading any apps, films, books or music before you go to avoid charges abroad.
- Turning off data roaming. If you leave it on, you can run up a big bill without actively using your phone as smartphones and 3G/4G enabled tablets automatically seek out mobile connections and use them to update apps.
- Using Wi-Fi to get online. Most hotels abroad now offer free roaming access, as do many restaurants and cafes.
- Buying a local pay-as-you-go Sim when you arrive. This means you pay the same price as locals, although obviously you’ll have a different phone number.
- Talking to your provider. Some providers, such as Three, allow users to roam for free in certain countries. Others may be able to offer you a roaming add-on deal.