New mobile roaming alert protections for UK holidaymakers
- New research reveals nearly one in five holidaymakers are unaware of roaming charges when travelling
- Ofcom proposes new rules to protect UK customers from unexpected charges and ‘inadvertent roaming’
UK mobile customers will have to be told about any roaming charges that apply when travelling abroad, under new rules proposed today by 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 to roaming charges when they start to roam – have ceased to apply. Some providers now charge customers around £2 per day to make or receive calls, send texts or go online when travelling.
So, Ofcom has been considering whether to introduce new roaming alert protections for consumers and small businesses. While many companies have voluntarily continued to send their customers alerts when they start roaming, our review has uncovered concerns that the information provided can be inconsistent and unclear.
What we have found
Our research found that nearly one in five holidaymakers (19%) are unaware they could face extra charges when using their mobile abroad and a similar proportion (18%) said they do not research roaming charges before travelling.
Many people rely on roaming alerts – 94% of travellers are aware of them and more than eight in ten (84%) read them. Of those who read their alerts, 94% rate them as either essential or helpful when they first begin to roam and 72% modify their behaviour when they see one – such as connecting to Wi-Fi (29%), using less data (26%) and switching off data roaming (24%).
Top tips for avoiding a big mobile roaming bill
With millions of people set to jet off on their summer holidays in the coming weeks, Ofcom has also published top tips on what you can do to avoid building up a big mobile roaming bill when travelling this summer.
Mandatory roaming alerts
To make sure people have the information they need when they need it, Ofcom is proposing new rules and guidance that would require all UK mobile companies to tell their customers when they start roaming, how much it will cost them and any action they can take to limit their spend.
Under these proposals, mobile customers would get personalised alerts including details on:
- Roaming charges that will apply including specifying any fair use data limits and the time period that applies to any daily charges.
- Any mobile bill limit the customer has in place.
- Where to find free-to-access additional detail on roaming charges, fair use policies and how to monitor, reduce and limit spend.
"Millions of UK holidaymakers head abroad every year and want to stay connected on their travels. But without clear information from their provider, they could find themselves facing an unexpected bill for calling home or going online.
“These alerts would mean whichever mobile provider you’re with, you won’t be left in the dark about roaming charges and action you can take to manage your spending."Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s Director of Telecoms Consumer Protection
Protections from inadvertent roaming
Inadvertent roaming is when a device connects to a network in a different country even though the customer is not physically in that country. Our research shows that one in seven UK mobile customers (14%) experience this when abroad or still in the UK, including 2% of customers connecting to French networks while on the English coast.
However, this is a particular issue for people in Northern Ireland, with many thousands of people living in areas that share the border with Ireland. Research shows that 22% of customers in Northern Ireland reported experiencing inadvertent roaming onto networks in Ireland in the last year.
While alerts would warn customers that they are roaming, we are also proposing additional protections against the impact of inadvertent roaming. These would require mobile providers to:
- provide customers with clear information about how to avoid inadvertent roaming, both when in the UK and abroad; and
- have measures in place to enable customers to reduce and/or limit their spend on roaming while in the UK. This is particularly important for people living in Northern Ireland. These measures could include offering special tariffs or treating mobile usage in Ireland the same as being in the UK, which some providers are already doing.
We are inviting responses to our consultation by 28 September 2023 and plan to publish our decision in early 2024.
As providers have previously been required to send roaming alerts and many are currently doing so voluntarily, they already have systems and processes in place to send them. However, providers might need to make some changes. So, we are proposing an implementation period of six months from when we publish our decision.
Notes to editors
- Yonder conducted an online omnibus survey (PDF, 1.6 MB) in November 2022. The sample consisted of 2,108 adults aged 16+ who were UK mobile customers and was weighted to be nationally representative of the UK.
- Ofcom does not have the power to stop mobile providers charging customers for using their services when travelling, so this work is not looking at regulating the level of roaming prices.
- Research commissioned by the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, with a sample size of 1,000, which provided information on the specific experiences of mobile customers in Northern Ireland.