UK and EU mobile companies reintroducing roaming charges as the EU extends scheme

UK residents face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some mobile phone operators are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded while visiting EU countries. In the EU, only a few companies have so far made this decision for customers travelling to the UK.

This is one of the many consequences of Brexit. Because of the withdrawal from the European Union, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which banned roaming charges for holidays or business trips within the bloc.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their national plans at no extra cost.

If the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is capped at €0.032 per minute for voice calls, €0.01 per text message and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded (this has been decreasing over time and was €3 + VAT in 2021).

Initially enforced for five years, the regulation is due to expire on 30 June 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. Here is what changes this year.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges

Three UK network operators will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in Europe in 2022.

Vodafone UK – as of 6 January, Vodafonewill charges customers with monthly plans started after 11 August 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day with a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

EE – from 3 March 2022 EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from 7 July 2021. Alternatively, there is the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10.

Three UK – from 23 May 2022 Three will charge £2 a day to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, for plans started or upgraded since 1 October 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad for free is also capped at 12 gigabytes. Beyond that, customers are charged £3 per gigabyte.

O2 – The company introduced in August 2021 a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other operators have not announced changes, but it won’t be surprising if they follow these companies in the future.

“Fewer than half our customers roamed beyond the Republic of Ireland in 2019. And the reality is that including roaming – a service that costs us money to provide – in every plan means more than half of our customers are paying for something that they don’t use,” explained Ahmed Essam, CEO of Vodafone UK, on the company’s website.

“What’s free for one person usually has to be paid for by someone else. So we think it’s fairer to give people more choice over what they pay for, either opting into a price plan that includes free roaming, or paying for roaming only when they roam,” he argued.

Consumers organisations, however, were disappointed. Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer group Which? said:  “The UK and EU should… 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”.

Under UK law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month, consumers have to be alerted when they are at 80% and 100% of data usage and they can continue roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending.

Some EU companies reintroducing charges too

In the EU, few companies have announced the reintroduction of roaming charges for the UK.

In Sweden, Telenor and Telia ended free roaming last year. Since 1 May 2021 Telenor applies to customers travelling to the UK the same prices of those in non-EEA countries, but free roaming remains available for some plans.

Telia ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on 13 September 2021 and customers have now the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day or to buy a weekly pass that includes calls, texts and 1 GB of data.

In Austria, A1 Telekom Austria introduced new fees last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. The cost for calls and text messages to Great Britain from Austria has also increased.

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have so far extended free roaming for the UK until the end of 2022.

EU free roaming to continue until 2032

While conditions are changing for Britain, in December the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the extension of free roaming until 2032.

In addition to waiving the charges, the cap on the wholesale price will further decrease. In addition, the regulation says that travellers should benefit of the same quality of service they have at home. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G abroad if possible.

New rules also aim to ensure that people travelling in the EU are given information about the European emergency number, 112, or its alternatives, with non-voice options for users with disabilities.

EU member states will have to protect consumers from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on non-terrestrial networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes, or when they are in border regions.

Boštjan Koritnik, Minister for the Public Administration in Slovenia, which held the EU Council presidency in the past semester, commented: “The ‘roam like at home’ policy has made communication easier and cheaper whenever people are travelling in Europe, so no wonder it is one of the greatest success stories of the digital single market”.

“Free roaming also supports one of our most fundamental values, namely the free movement of people within the EU,” he added.

The European Parliament and Council will formally approve the new regulation in the coming weeks.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

Photo via Pixabay

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