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Ofcom proposes new rules to curb fees

Ofcom proposes new rules to curb fees

Ofcom, the UK regulator, is taking significant steps to protect mobile phone users from unexpected charges while using their devices abroad. In their new plans, they propose that mobile networks should inform customers about potential roaming fees, including charges for using minutes, texts, or data outside the UK. Shockingly, one in five people are currently unaware that they face such fees when traveling.

To address this issue, Ofcom aims to mandate mobile providers to alert their customers about potential roaming-related charges and inform them of any actions they can take to limit these expenses. Consumer groups have revealed that roaming fees are costing British phone users over half a billion pounds annually, making it a significant financial burden for many.

Some mobile networks have been charging customers approximately £2 a day to use their phones abroad, leading to substantial unexpected bills for consumers. In response to growing concerns and public demand, Ofcom is expected to make a decision on the new rules in 2024. Afterward, mobile providers will have six months to implement the changes.

The background to this issue lies in the Brexit deal. In 2017, the European Union (EU) banned roaming charges, but the scheme still applied to British people traveling to the EU during the negotiation period. However, when the UK’s Brexit deal was finally reached, it did not extend the ban on roaming charges for British mobile phone users in the EU, allowing UK operators to reintroduce them from January 2021.

Furthermore, the UK chose not to enact laws requiring companies to inform customers about potential roaming charges, leading to several major mobile networks, including Three, EE, and Vodafone, reintroducing roaming fees for customers traveling to the EU in 2022. O2 took a more lenient approach, offering up to 25GB of data usage in a month before applying charges.

This lack of regulatory protection for consumers and the potential for hefty roaming costs have left many vulnerable to large, unexpected bills. According to Uswitch mobiles expert Ernest Doku, the comparison site strongly supports Ofcom’s proposal, as it seeks to safeguard consumers from these excessive charges.

Ofcom also addresses the issue of “inadvertent roaming,” where a customer using their phone in the UK unknowingly connects to a mobile network from a different country. This situation is uncommon for most in the mainland UK but affects Northern Ireland residents, particularly near the border, and some living along the south coast, who might occasionally connect to a network in France. To tackle this, Ofcom has suggested introducing specific tariffs or requiring networks to treat mobile usage in Ireland the same as being in the UK, an approach already adopted by some networks.

In conclusion, Ofcom’s new plans are set to benefit mobile phone users in the UK by ensuring they are informed about potential roaming fees when traveling abroad. By mandating mobile providers to send alerts and offer options to manage spending, consumers can avoid unpleasant financial surprises. Furthermore, addressing the issue of inadvertent roaming will provide additional clarity and protection for customers, preventing unexpected charges and promoting fair treatment in mobile usage across different territories.


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