It’s the latest Brexit u-turn: in January 2021, the UK’s four major mobile phone networks – O2, Vodafone, Three and EE – all promised customers they wouldn’t be reintroducing roaming charges in Europe post-Brexit. Less than six months later, some of them are.
Roaming charges – commonplace in the 2000s and 2010s – were outlawed by the European Union in 2017. Some fair use limits were applied, but businesses operating in EU countries were prevented from charging customers extra to use their phones outside their home country.
Then along came Brexit. A pre-Christmas 2020 Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU seemed to enshrine “transparent and reasonable rates for international mobile roaming services” – which the networks initially took as a reason to not reintroduce charges. Now, however, that’s changed. “It’s not something I foresaw coming,” says Kester Mann, mobile analyst at CCS Insight. “It’s a bold move, given the negative association consumers have with roaming. It’s always been a very poisonous subject.”
What networks are charging what?
EE was first to announce a change, introducing a flat fee of £2 a day for customers travelling in 47 different European countries. Ireland is exempt. The roaming fee, which is for new or upgrading customers who sign up or start a new contract after July 7, 2021, will begin to be levied from January 2022. Paying £2 (or £10 for a month) lets you access your plan’s full data, minutes and text allowance. Enders Analysis estimates that by next summer, half of EE customers will be subject to roaming charges, and practically all of them by summer 2023.
BT Mobile has a partnership with EE, but an EE spokesperson says the changes only apply to EE. BT Mobile did not respond to a request for comment.
O2 says it is not reintroducing roaming charges, but it is instigating a fair use cap on roaming data across Europe of 25GB, effective August 2, 2021. “This means they can use up to 25GB of their allowance at no extra cost – we’ll text them if they get close to the limit, and again if they reach it,” an O2 spokesperson says. Any data beyond that 25GB limit will be charged at £3.50 per GB. O2 says the change will affect less than one per cent of its pay monthly customers.