In June 2017 the European Union (EU) scrapped additional charges for roaming on mobile phones when you travel to another EU country. Roaming is when you use your mobile phone abroad.
Since 2017, UK consumers have, within reason, been able to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone tariffs when travelling in the EU. The same is true for consumers from other EU countries visiting the UK.
There are fair use limits, which mean you can use your mobile phone while travelling in another EU country, but you could not, for example, get a mobile phone contract from Greece and then use it all year round in the UK.
Before the rules changed, using a mobile phone in Europe was expensive, with cases of people returning from trips to find bills for hundreds or even thousands of pounds waiting for them.
Will these charges return after Brexit?
After leaving the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK is now in a transition period during which virtually all EU rules and regulations – including on mobile phone roaming – still apply.
The transition will end on 31 December 2020.
What happens to roaming charges (and lots of other things) will depend on what is agreed about the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU.
If nothing is agreed then mobile operators would be able to implement roaming charges after the end of the transition period.
The government released guidance on 13 July 2020 saying: “From 1 January 2021, the guarantee of free mobile phone roaming throughout the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway will end.”
“Check with your phone operator to find out about any roaming charges you might get from 1 January 2021.”
The government has passed legislation that would provide some safeguards to consumers:
- A £45-a-month limit on the amount that customers could be charged for using mobile data abroad before having to opt into further use
- Requirements for customers to be informed when they have reached 80% and 100% of their data allowances
- Operators would have to take “reasonable steps” to avoid customers being charged for accidental roaming in Northern Ireland, which would happen if a phone in Northern Ireland locked onto the mobile signal coming from the Republic of Ireland.
Of course, just because the operators might be allowed to reintroduce roaming charges, it does not necessarily mean that they would do so.
Three has no plans to bring them back in, regardless of how negotiations between the UK and the EU turn out.
Vodafone said it currently had no plans to change its roaming charges.
EE said: “Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and we have no plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome.”
And O2 said: “We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe, maintaining our ‘Roam Like At Home’ arrangements.”
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