Families going abroad stung by £80m of charges as mobile firms cash in on Brexit

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UK travellers lost around £8.9m a week this summer after mobile phone companies took advantage of Brexit deregulation to bring back European data roaming charges.

Across July and August, holidaymakers may have forked out as much as £80m in fees, according to mobile network provider Virgin Media O2. In Spain alone, roaming charges cost travellers £26m.

Major operators such as Vodafone, Three and EE reintroduced roaming charges after Britain left the EU – when a host of post-Brexit consumer protections expired this year. 

The firms now charge customers £2 a day to access their standard data allowance in Europe, although some of their bundles reduce this cost.

The only major mobile network provider that has refused to bring back the charges is Virgin O2. Some SIM-only providers including ID, Lebara and Smarty, have also declined to bring back the charge so far. 

Ernest Doku of comparison site Uswitch said: “The reintroduction of roaming charges across different networks at different times this year was a perfect storm for consumer confusion. Many holidaymakers, who stayed at home during the pandemic, experienced these new fees for the first time this summer and our research showed that a quarter did not know what to expect.”

He said he expected to see more providers changing not only their pricing but also their limits on how mobile data travellers to Europe can use. Giffgaff slashed its fair usage limit from 20GB to 5GB this summer, and next week Asda Mobile – which runs off the Vodafone network – will follow in its footsteps, cutting its overseas data allowance from 25GB to 5GB. 

“Customers of either provider who exceed these limits abroad will have to pay 10p per MB to continue roaming. This means using an extra 1GB without buying a new plan will cost at least £100,” said Mr Doku. 

When the EU first decided to scrap roaming charges in 2016, the government estimated it would save UK travellers £1.4bn a year in roaming charges. 

Kester Mann of technology market analyst firm CCS Insight said the silver lining was that, even with the reintroduction of roaming charges, the “astronomical phone bills” holidaymakers paid in the past were “long gone” thanks to improved consumer protection. 

“For a family of four travelling for two weeks, the £2-a-day roaming charges will start to add up, but price caps mean consumers are still in a much better position than they were about five years ago,” he said.

A Vodafone UK spokesman said: “Most of our customers who travelled to the EU this summer were able to roam for free, which was either due to having roaming included in their plan or because they had signed up to their current plan before 11 August 2021. 

“Customers who sign up to an EVO plan with four Xtra benefits will get inclusive roaming. Roaming in our EU destinations is available from just £1 per day – using the 8 or 15 day roaming passes. Alternatively, it is £2 per day.

“Customers can set their own limits via our Vodafone Spend Manager, which is free to set up via the My Vodafone App.”

A Three spokesman said: “We want to keep our roaming pricing as simple and affordable for customers as possible, and we think a flat charge of £2 in the EU and £5 outside the EU reflects this. It also means only those who roam will pay for the service, rather than customers who stay in the UK also absorbing this cost.

“We are investing billions of pounds in improving our network and infrastructure and already offer some of the most cost-effective deals on the market – implementing a separate roaming fee will enable us to continue to do this.”

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