Citizens Advice says more should be done to protect consumers from high roaming costs and bill shock with more warnings, safeguards and compassion
The government should work with operators to create a voluntary agreement that would help protect UK mobile users against the threat of bill shock when using their phone abroad, according to Citizens Advice.
The charity says there are major disparities between the ‘standard’ and cheapest rates for mobile services among 14 mobile operators, with one network charging customers without a roaming add-on 80 times more than those who do have one.
Mobile data roaming within the European Union (EU) is capped at £0.17 per MB and there are plans to abolish such practices within member states from 1 July 2017 – although there will be a controversial “fair use” policy in place.
Roaming bill shock
However roaming outside the EU is not limited and operators are free to charge whatever they like. Most networks offer ‘add-ons’ that offer a certain amount of data for a fixed price, but many of these must be activated in advance. Adding to the confusion is that many people don’t know which countries are in the EU.
Citizens Advice says that without any add-ons in place, watching a 30-minute episode of Eastenders could cost up to £1,360 in Turkey, while plotting a two mile journey in Google Maps could cost £17.
Recent research from iPass suggested European business travellers spend £275 million a year travelling on other EU countries and £243 million outside the continent.
Currently, UK operators are only required to warn consumers when the reach a threshold of €50, after which no more warnings will be issued. Citizens Advice says operators should send notifications at regular intervals, make it clear how much each MB costs and show compassion when dealing with customers who have suffered bill shock so they are not pushed into debt.
“Using the internet on your mobile abroad can cost more than the holiday itself,” said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice. “Most people don’t think in megabytes, and don’t choose their mobile provider based on roaming rates.
“The market shouldn’t be a lottery where some customers can be unwittingly plunged into life-changing amounts of debt just because they used their phone. A voluntary price cap would help better protect customers and companies could do more by giving more warnings to customers if their bills start to rise.”
Until such an agreement is in place, customers are advised to turn data roaming off and contact their operator to find out with their roaming tariff is.
EE says its customers cannot physically use the Internet abroad if they do not choose to purchase an add-on bundle and are notifited when this expires. Additionally, when a user arrives in a foreign country, they are sent a text outlining the cost of calls and texts.
Vodafone also said it imposed a cap of £36.39 when users are abroad and issued notifications when users were close to this limit. It also said it offered boosters for customers travelling in Europe and outside Europe.
Three said it supported Citizens Advice’s ambitions, pointing out it has add-ons for European travellers and has eliminated many roaming costs in some countries with Feel at Home. Further more, it has a £36 price cap that applied worldwide and must be consciously removed by the user.
“High roaming charges are unfair and stop customers enjoying their mobile devices abroad,” said a company spokesperson.
“Three customers can use the internet, call and text home out of their UK allowance in 18 destinations – including the USA, France, Italy, Spain and Australia. This covers 65 percent of customer trips abroad. We support the CAB’s aim of ending bill shock for travellers and we already have a number of measures in place to guard against it.”
O2 said all customer’s roaming charges are capped unless they actively request it not to cap them. This cap is £43 and allows for 225MB of data within the EU. If users want to increase this to £120 they need to increase their spending limit by texting O2, and those that want to remove the cap entirely, must ring O2. Howeever the operator does offer an EU travel plan for £1.99 a day for unlimited data. Outside the EU, data costs £6 per MB and no add-on is available.
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