Cellphone companies are breaking promises on post-Brexit roaming charges, warns Martin Lewis | Mobile phones

Phone networks are taking advantage of post-Brexit deregulation to deter customers from racking up big roaming bills while on holiday in the EU, consumer rights champion Martin Lewis has warned.

At the end of June, a series of consumer protections that had been introduced after Brexit expired. As a result, phone networks are no longer required to send customers a message with price details when they start roaming, nor cap the maximum data roaming charges that can be charged monthly. Networks also no longer need to provide protections against inadvertent roaming.

In the age of data-intensive smartphones, consumers can rack up huge bills in minutes without even realizing they’re using their phone, as apps connect to the internet to check for updates after a theft or during a trip.

Lewis, who leads the consumer group MoneySavingExpert.com, warned that mobile networks had shown they could not be trusted to self-regulate and since Brexit some operators had pledged not to reintroduce roaming charges, only to backtrack on those promises. The only option was for the government to intervene, he said.

“I don’t trust mobile companies to self-regulate. When we left the EU they promised not to reintroduce European roaming charges…but most of the big networks broke that promise,” he said.

Martin Lewis: “We need to reintroduce formal and mandatory protections for consumers.” Photography: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

“Our report therefore calls on Ofcom not to trust voluntary promises – we must reintroduce formal and mandatory consumer protections.”

In addition to imposing significant costs, mobile networks benefited from ambiguities that individual consumers are rarely aware of. Many limit daily roaming charges, for example, but each defines a “day” differently, with some counting the 24-hour period after first use, but others simply end it at 11:59 p.m. UK time, whatever regardless of where the traveler actually is or when they first used the data. Worse, the operators rarely define their terms in the texts sent on arrival in foreign countries.

This means that a traveler who arrived in Greece, which is two hours ahead of the UK, at 1.58am could be charged a full day of roaming for one minute of phone use before their allowance ran out. exceeded, without ever being explicitly warned that this was the case. .

“We need to ban daily roaming charges for use ‘until 11:59 p.m.’ without even mentioning in which time zone,” Lewis said.

“Instead, we recommend that all providers define a roaming ‘day’ as a 24-hour period from first use, explain this clearly in inbound text, and alert customers at least one hour before the end of the daily charge.”

As well as campaigning for greater regulation of mobile phone roaming charges, Lewis has been heavily involved in the current cost of living crisis, warning Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak that whoever becomes the next prime minister, they will inherit a country on the brink of a “national financial cataclysm” due to soaring energy bills.

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“Winter is going to be gloomy,” he said. “I believe that if no action is taken, we face a potential national financial cataclysm”, which could require the provision of “heat banks”, “warm spaces in public buildings” such as libraries and recreation centers where people who cannot afford to heat their homes can shelter. The energy price cap is set to rise in October and then again in January to over £3,300 a year from its current level of £1,971.

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