09 Sep 2021
Source: BBC News
Three has become the latest big UK mobile operator to announce that it is going to start charging its customers extra for using their phones in Europe.
It follows the example of EE and Vodafone.
Between 2017 and the end of 2020, UK consumers were able, within reason, to use the minutes, texts and data included on their mobile phone tariffs when travelling in the EU.
But since January 2021, UK operators have been allowed to reintroduce so-called roaming charges because the UK left the EU and the Brexit trade deal did not rule them out.
None of the networks will be charging for roaming in the Republic of Ireland.
From 23 May 2022, Three customers who have signed up or upgraded from October 2021 will have to pay £2 a day to use the minutes and data from their UK contracts in EU countries.
It is also introducing a £5 a day charge for roaming in some countries outside the EU, where it previously allowed free roaming.
EE will also be charging £2 a day in Europe. It will introduce the charges in January 2022 for customers who joined or upgraded their contracts after 7 July 2021.
There will be 30-day packages available for people travelling for longer periods.
Vodafone’s charges will be applied from 6 January, from when it will have three types of tariffs:
All four of the big operators previously said they had no plans to introduce roaming charges. O2 still says that.
Even with the extra charges, there are “fair use limits” on the amount of time that customers will be allowed to use their phones abroad.
You cannot, for example, get a mobile phone contract from Greece and then use it all year round in the UK.
UK customers have been told that their operators will charge extra if they spend more than half their time overseas, generally measured by being in another country for more than 62 days in a four-month period.
That could have happened while the UK was still part of the EU, but some operators have only just started enforcing it.
Similarly, data limits are also subject to fair use restrictions. Customers of O2 have a monthly data limit of 25GB and will be charged £3.50 for each GB after that. Vodafone’s limit is also 25GB with a £3.13 charge per GB after that.
Three has cut its fair use limit from 20GB a month to 12GB and will charge £3 per GB above that.
The planned £2-a-day fees are still relatively small compared with the costs customers had to pay before the EU banned roaming charges.
In the past some people returned from European trips to face bills for hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
The UK’s trade deal with the EU said that both sides would encourage operators to have “transparent and reasonable rates” for roaming.
The UK government also passed legislation to provide some safeguards for consumers:
Without the EU rules in place, the charges levied depend on agreements between UK operators and their counterparts in EU countries.
Both sides may have seen this as an opportunity to make some money both from UK customers visiting EU countries and EU customers coming to the UK.
The four main operators in the UK declined to comment on the commercial deals they have with other operators.
The UK government recommends that customers check the details of their individual tariff with their phone operator before travelling.
The regulator Ofcom has also issued some guidance.