Ofcom proposes new rules for mobile companies to introduce mandatory roaming alerts for customers to avoid shock bills

Ofcom proposes new rules for mobile companies to introduce mandatory roaming warnings for customers to avoid shocking bills

  • Mobile customers in the UK should be advised of any applicable roaming charges
  • New rules would require companies to send customer alerts

Phone users must now be warned of any roaming charges that may apply when traveling abroad, under new rules proposed by Ofcom today.

Post-Brexit, EU rules on ‘roaming like at home’ – and UK law requiring mobile operators to inform customers of roaming charges – will no longer apply.

Some carriers now charge customers a daily rate to make or receive calls, text, or go online when they travel.

As a result, Ofcom has proposed rules requiring UK mobile companies to tell their customers when they will start roaming, how much it will cost them and what action they can take to limit their spending.

Roaming crackdown: New rules proposed by Ofcom UK will require mobile companies to send customers alerts detailing roaming charges

An investigation carried out by Ofcom has found that the information provided by mobile companies can be inconsistent and unclear.

Ofcom found that almost one in five holidaymakers are unaware of additional charges when using their mobile phone abroad and 18 per cent said they did not research roaming charges before travelling.

Many people rely on roaming warnings – 94 percent of travelers are aware of them and more than four in five read them.

Of those who read their roaming warnings, 94 percent rate them as essential or useful when they first start roaming, and 72 percent adjust their behavior when they see one, such as connecting to Wi-Fi, using less data, and turning off data roaming.

Under the mandatory alerts proposals, mobile customers would receive alerts detailing roaming charges that will apply, including specifying fair use data limits and the period of time applicable to any daily charges.

The proposals also require customers to be made aware of any mobile billing limits they have.

Customers should also be informed where they can find additional free information on roaming charges, fair use policies and how to monitor, reduce and limit spending.

Protection against accidental roaming

Ofcom is also proposing additional guidelines to protect customers from accidental roaming.

Inadvertent roaming is when a device connects to a network in another country, even though the customer is not physically located in that country.

Research from Ofcom shows that one in seven UK mobile customers experience this while abroad or still in the UK, including 2 per cent of customers connecting to French networks while on the English coast.

It mainly affects people in Northern Ireland, where many thousands of people live in areas that share the border with Ireland. Research shows that 22 percent of customers in Northern Ireland reported unintentionally roaming on networks in Ireland in the past year.

The additional protection against accidental roaming requires mobile operators to provide customers with clear information on how to prevent accidental roaming, both in the UK and abroad.

Mobile operators will also need to take measures to enable customers to reduce and/or limit their roaming expenditure in the UK.

Cristina Luna-Esteban, director of telecoms consumer protection at Ofcom, said: ‘Millions of UK holidaymakers go abroad every year and want to stay connected during their travels. But without clear information from their provider, they could be faced with an unexpected bill for calling home or going online.

“These alerts should mean that no matter what mobile provider you’re with, you won’t be left in the dark about roaming charges and actions you can take to manage your spending.”

Ofcom invites comments to its consultation on the proposed rules by 28 September 2023 and plans to publish its decision in early 2024.