At the start of 2021, the UK’s four largest phone operators – Three, EE, 02 and Vodafone – all said they had no plans to change their roaming policies due to Brexit.
But in a major about-turn, Three has announced that people visiting EU countries will face a £2 daily roaming charge while travelling, which will apply from May 23rd, 2022.
With its Friday announcement, Three becomes the latest in a string of operators to pivot on the issue of roaming charges.
It follows announcements from EE and Vodafone, who revealed that they would be scrapping free EU roaming earlier this year. Each of the three operators has opted for a £2 daily fee rather than costs for individual calls and texts.
Prices will ‘skyrocket’
With some Brits in Germany still opting to keep their UK phone contracts going after moving abroad due to the EU’s previous free-of-charge roaming agreement, it isn’t only tourists who will be impacted by the move.
Writing on Facebook, Tom White, who lives in Germany but still uses his Three UK number, lamented the fact that his contract was about to “skyrocket” in price.
He said he had already received emails and texts from Three informing him that he had breached their fair usage policy as he had been out of the UK for more than two months, and would therefore be subject to roaming charges from September 17th.
Since his contract had auto-renewed early this year, he is locked into paying these charges for another seven months.
“I’ve been out of the UK for over three years,” he wrote. “This is the first I ever heard mention of a time limit on fair usage. Last time I checked my ‘fair usage’ was a data cap of 20GB a month, that last year got dropped to 12GB a month due to exiting the EU… There was no mention of a time limit!”
In addition to Three, other operators have become stricter on their ‘fair use’ policies for roaming. Some state that Brits shouldn’t roam abroad for more than 62 days within a four-month period, while others, such as O2, have introduced caps on data usage abroad.
For most people living in the UK, however, Three’s new roaming charges will only apply if they take out a new contract or upgrade from October 1st, 2021.
The Republic of Ireland and Isle of Man are both exempt from the charges.
No ban on roaming charges post-Brexit
In 2017, the European Union brought in legislation to ban mobile operators from levying roaming charges to customers travelling between member states.
This effectively ended for UK customers after Britain left the European Union.
A ban on roaming charges was subsequently excluded from the post-Brexit trade deal, although operators are expected to offer “transparent and reasonable rates” if they do introduce new fees.
“The new charge ensures that customers are clear on what they will pay when using their phone in another country and only those who roam will pay for the service,” a spokesperson for Three UK told The Guardian. “It will also ensure that we can continue investing in our UK network.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier at a summit in 2019. Roaming charges were excluded from the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreement. Photo: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
According to Three, the daily £2 roaming fee will also be capped at £45 to avoid customers getting “bill shock” upon their return home from a European Union country.
But consumer rights advocates have slammed the move.
“It’s really disappointing that Three is reintroducing roaming charges and that new and upgrading customers will be burdened with extra charges abroad for using mobile data, calls and texts that they have already paid for,” Sue Davies, head of consumer protection policy at Which?, told The Guardian.
“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 prevent the return of excessive charges.”
So far, German phone companies have ruled out introducing post-Brexit roaming charges for people visit the UK – at least for the remainder of 2021.