The UK’s four major phone networks — EE, Three, Vodafone and O2 — have vowed not to reintroduce roaming charges when Britain leaves the bloc in January, after the government today urged Brits to check with their mobile carriers for price changes ahead of the Brexit transition period deadline.
The UK government today called on the public to check whether their mobile networks will apply post-Brexit changes to EU roaming charges as it unveiled its new “check, change and go” media campaign highlighting how travel will be affected after the transition period.
In June 2017 the EU scrapped additional charges for roaming on mobile phones for customers travelling abroad, meaning UK customers can enjoy their usual minutes, texts, and data while on holiday in the EU without extra tariffs.
But the government today urged the British public to check whether their network carriers will reintroduce roaming charges as the UK prepares to leave the customs union and single market on 1 January 2020.
As part of its new £93m “check, change and go” media blitz, the government warned UK travellers they “may be charged for using your mobile device in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein if your operator has reintroduced roaming charges.”
The announcement raised concerns that the end of the Brexit transition period could see a return to huge mobile charges for holiday goers, which often ran into the hundreds or thousands of pounds before being scrapped under fresh EU legislation three years ago.
However, the UK’s four main mobile networks have all doubled down on promises not to U-turn on free roaming policies within the EU after Britain formally exits the EU at the end of the transition period in 2021.
A spokesperson for EE told City A.M: “Our customers enjoy inclusive roaming in Europe and beyond, and we don’t have any plans to change this based on the Brexit outcome. So our customers going on holiday and travelling in the EU will continue to enjoy inclusive roaming.”
A statement on EE’s website says that this policy may be reviewed “if the government doesn’t reach a trade deal with the EU by December 2020”.
“This means EE may lose the protections and regulations that guarantee the low rates European operators charge us when you go abroad,” EE said, adding: “In the event of this happening, EE will need to do individual deals with each of the 27 EU countries. This includes 144 operators, in total, but we will continue to do everything we can to provide inclusive roaming to you in the long term.”
Three, which owns networks Plusnet, Smarty and Superdrug Mobile, also stated that it would not be changing its roaming policy after the UK leaves the bloc next year.
A spokesperson told City A.M: “Three is the global leader in international roaming and already offers roaming at no extra cost for its customers in over 70 destinations. We will retain this great customer benefit regardless of Brexit negotiations allowing our customers to use their phones when they travel within the EU.”
O2, which serves more than a quarter of the UK’s mobile customers, also confirmed that it has no plans to roll out roaming costs for UK travellers, despite the government’s announcement.
An O2 spokesperson told City A.M: “We’re committed to providing our customers with great connectivity and value when they travel outside the UK. We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe, maintaining our ‘Roam Like At Home’ arrangements.”
Vodafone, which is the UK’s third-largest network provider with more than 20 per cent of market share, had previously said that it was “too soon to assess the implications of Brexit on roaming regulation,” adding that it expects “competition will continue to drive good value for customers.”
However, Vodafone today told City A.M: “To confirm, we currently have no plans to reintroduce roaming charges in Europe.”
The announcements by the UK’s four main telecoms networks come on the backdrop of a £93m advertising splurge by the government urging the public to “check and change” their travel routines.
The announcement that roaming charges may return is part of a package of warnings set to feature on TV, radio and online to prepare people for changes to foreign travel after the Brexit deadline.
UK citizens intending to travel to Europe from 1 January next year will also be told to ensure their passports have at least six months validity left. Those wishing to bring pets abroad must contact a vet at least four months before travelling under the new government guidance.
The adverts, which are earmarked by the Cabinet’s new “check, change, go” slogan, direct the public to a checker tool on the government’s website showing them the steps they need to take to prepare for changes to normal travel procedures.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey told City A.M: “The incompetence of this government knows no bounds. The government are spending money on a PR campaign warning people about something that is not going to happen.
“There are enough challenges around the Brexit deadline without the government creating new ones.”
It comes after the government earlier this year vowed to introduce a legislated cap of £45 per month on roaming charges should companies decide to reinstate them from January. Customers will have to opt into further use, and will be informed when they have reached both 80 per cent and 100 per cent of their data allowances.
Ministers are also exploring whether international mobile roaming may form part of trade negotiations with countries outside the EU. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has been researching what impact the measures would have on telecoms providers if roaming charges for travellers to and from the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan were scrapped.
It remains unclear where some of the UK’s smaller phone networks stand on EU roaming charges, as most of them lease their mobile and data servers from the four major carriers.
Virgin Media told City A.M. it plans to follow its EE carrier in refusing to apply changes to its Roam Like Home package post-Brexit.
“Virgin Mobile customers can continue to enjoy their inclusive data, minutes and texts while abroad in 43 European destinations.” However, it refused to rule out potential changes to its roaming services altogether, adding that it will”let our customers know in advance” if changes occur.
Likewise, Tesco Mobile, which is owned by the O2 network, said that “customers could see changes to how they use their mobiles abroad” after the transition period, depending on “the outcome of the UK government’s future trade negotiations with the EU.”
The Cabinet Office was approached for comment.