Ofcom announces data roaming charges rules change for UK holidaymakers

Data roaming charges have hit many UK tourists heading to Europe since Brexit, with Ofcom seeking to make mobile network policies clearer to consumers.

Data roaming charges: a holidaymaker sits on a beach while using her phone
Data roaming charges have been hitting UK consumers since 2021 (image: Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ofcom has revealed plans to help UK holidaymakers avoid unexpected data roaming charges when travelling abroad.

Coming in from 1 October 2024, mobile providers will have to message their customers as soon as they start roaming on foreign soil. They will also have to clearly set out their roaming charges, and provide information on their roaming policies.

UK travellers to the continent have faced roaming charges from most providers since 2021, when the UK left the European Union. At present, there is no onus on network providers to inform their customers that they face additional charges abroad.

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It comes as bill payers face a significant increase in their costs over the coming weeks, with mobile and broadband providers set to apply mid-term, above-inflation hikes to contracts. Council tax and water bills are also in line for significant increases that come in above the current level of the CPI, although energy bills are set to fall significantly.

Ofcom to make data roaming charges 'clearer'

Under current rules, mobile providers only put out customer roaming alerts on a voluntary basis. But this autumn, they will have to notify their users as soon as they start using their phone abroad.

Ofcom has said it will require providers to provide the following information in their roaming alerts:

The telecoms regulator will require the information must be displayed in a clear manner, and should be free to access from other countries. It has also said it will require firms to provide information on how to avoid inadvertent roaming in border regions of the UK, such as in Northern Ireland and in France-facing coastal areas.

Cristina Luna-Esteban, Ofcom’s directory of telecoms consumer policy, said the regulator wanted to make mobile bill payers “confident” that they won’t face any unwelcome “surprises” when they go on holiday.

"The last thing holidaymakers want when returning from a trip abroad is an unexpected mobile phone bill,” she said. “At the moment, some customers aren’t getting clear information from their provider to help them manage their mobile use and plan their spend. Our new protections will mean you’re told what it’ll cost when you start roaming.”

Roaming charges ‘not understood by fifth of UK holidaymakers’

It comes after research by Ofcom found a large number of UK travellers were not aware of the post-Brexit roaming charges most operators have introduced since 2021.

A poll of more than 2,000 people aged 16 and over, which was commissioned by the regulator in late 2022, found 19% of UK holidaymakers were unaware that they could face additional charges when using their device overseas. Another 18% of UK adults told Ofcom they do not research roaming charges before they travel.

The same survey also found 14% of adult mobile users were victims of inadvertent roaming, whereby they incurred charges despite not having left the UK. Ofcom said this was a particular issue for “thousands” of consumers in Northern Ireland, who often find their device switching to a Republic of Ireland network despite remaining on the UK side of the border.

To avoid this scenario, it suggested it would be encouraging network operators to treat mobile usage in Ireland as being the same as UK usage.

Henry Sandercock
Staff Writer

Henry Sandercock has spent more than eight years as a journalist covering a wide variety of beats. Having studied for an MA in journalism at the University of Kent, he started his career in the garden of England as a reporter for local TV channel KMTV. 

Henry then worked at the BBC for three years as a radio producer - mostly on BBC Radio 2 with Jeremy Vine, but also on major BBC Radio 4 programmes like The World at One, PM and Broadcasting House. Switching to print media, he covered fresh foods for respected magazine The Grocer for two years. 

After moving to NationalWorld.com - a national news site run by the publisher of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post - Henry began reporting on the cost of living crisis, becoming the title’s money editor in early 2023. He covered everything from the energy crisis to scams, and inflation. You will now find him writing for MoneyWeek. Away from work, Henry lives in Edinburgh with his partner and their whippet Whisper.