Ofcom’s consumer protections ‘fall vastly short’

Ofcom’s consumer protections ‘fall vastly short’ Duncan is an award-winning editor with more than 20 years experience in journalism. Having launched his tech journalism career as editor of Arabian Computer News in Dubai, he has since edited an array of tech and digital marketing publications, including Computer Business Review, TechWeekEurope, Figaro Digital, Digit and Marketing Gazette.

Ofcom has introduced new rules aimed at better protecting UK mobile customers against unexpected roaming charges while using their phone abroad and at home.

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, EU ‘roam like at home’ rules – and UK law requiring mobile operators to alert customers of roaming charges when they start to roam – have ceased to apply. Since then, many operators have voluntarily continued to send their customers alerts.

However, a review by Ofcom found that the quality of information being provided can be inconsistent and unclear. Our research found that nearly one in five (19%) holidaymakers are unaware they could face extra charges when using their phone abroad, and a similar proportion (18%) said they do not research roaming charges before travelling.1

New rules

To make sure all mobile customers are given the information they need – when they need it – Ofcom is introducing new protections. From October 1, 2024, mobile providers need to notify customers when they start roaming.

Providers also need to provide clear, free to access information so customers can make informed decisions about whether – and how – to use their mobile phone abroad. This includes ensuring customers understand any roaming charges, including:

  • any fair use limits or time limits that apply;
  • that they can set a spend cap to limit their spend; and
  • where to find additional information about roaming.

But price comparison website Uswitch says the rules do not do enough to protect consumers.

Spokesperson for ther wbsite Ernest Doku, said: “It’s not fair when people return home to a shock bill, with some providers charging up to £6 per MB of data in some destinations.

“Roaming protections for consumers have slowly been eroded in recent years since Brexit, including the £45 worldwide data roaming cap which has now fallen away. There is now virtually nothing to stop providers from charging enormous sums when you use your phone abroad. 

“While we support these new rules, including roaming alerts and clear information on costs, they fall vastly short of the protections that consumers had come to expect. 

“They will only come into force from October, so those traveling abroad this summer will still need to take extra precautions to avoid any surprises. 

“The simplest way to avoid unexpected bills is to check with your provider. All providers publish roaming information online, so do your homework before you travel to find out what your current deal will allow you to use, as well as how much this will cost. You can also see if they offer roaming passes which could help manage your bills, and also ask them to cap your usage and roaming allowances.”

On a practical level, purchasing a temporary travel SIM with affordable data packages for your destination can give a layer of reassurance, explained Doku.

He added: “These can come as either physical SIM cards or the new digital eSIMs which will allow you to choose and activate a mobile plan entirely digitally. Also, keeping your phone on flight mode, connected to secure, private Wi-Fi where possible, and turning off your voicemail will also reduce both the likelihood and scale of charges.”

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