Ofcom rules promise greater protection from unexpected roaming charges

Mobile phones, Smartphones

woman sitting on beach looking at phone
UK mobile customers will be better protected against unexpected roaming charges while using their phone abroad, under new rules just announced by telecoms regulator Ofcom.

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, EU ‘roam like at home’ rules – and UK law requiring mobile operators to alert customers of roaming charges when they start to roam – have ceased to apply. Since then, many operators have voluntarily continued to send their customers alerts.

However, a review by Ofcom found that the quality of information being provided can be inconsistent and unclear. Its research found that nearly one in five (19%) holidaymakers are unaware they could face extra charges when using their phone abroad, and a similar proportion (18%) said they do not research roaming charges before travelling.

To make sure all mobile customers are given the information they need – when they need it – Ofcom is introducing new protections. From 1 October 2024, mobile providers need to notify customers when they start roaming.

Providers also need to provide clear, free-to-access information so customers can make informed decisions about whether – and how – to use their mobile phone abroad. This includes ensuring customers understand any roaming charges.

Says Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Policy:

“The last thing holidaymakers want when returning from a trip abroad is an unexpected mobile phone bill. At the moment, some customers aren’t getting clear information from their provider to help them manage their mobile use and plan their spend.

“Our new protections will mean you’re told what it’ll cost when you start roaming, so you can be confident that there won’t be any surprises when it comes to your mobile bill while on holiday.”

Adds Sue Davies, Which? Head of Consumer Protection Policy: 

“It is positive that Ofcom has confirmed that it will be introducing new rules to ensure mobile providers give clear information to UK customers about roaming charges when they are travelling abroad, or in some cases at home. These changes can help prevent people being stung with high mobile bills that they weren’t expecting. 

“The new rules do fall short by not suggesting that providers should give compensation to UK residents who have inadvertently fallen foul of roaming charges, and failing to outline what this would look like. 

“When the UK negotiates future trade deals, it must seize the opportunity to lower the cost of roaming for consumers travelling around the world. The UK and EU should also agree a deal on roaming charges that stops people facing extortionate bills from providers.”

Chris Price
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