Government publishes “Guidance on mobile roaming if there’s no Brexit deal”

Under the EU Roaming Regulation (531/2012/EU) and its subsequent amendments, consumers can travel in the EU with guaranteed surcharge-free roaming, i.e. mobile devices can be used to make calls, send texts and use mobile data services for no more than the charges applied in the UK. The Regulation also regulates what mobile operators can charge each other for providing roaming services and it extends to the wider European Economic Area (EEA), which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

If there’s a deal

The Guidance explains that in the event of a deal, surcharge-free roaming would continue to be guaranteed during the Implementation Period. Following the Implementation Period the arrangements for roaming, including surcharges, would depend on the outcome of the negotiations on the Future Economic Partnership.

If there’s no deal

In the event of a no deal, the costs that EU mobile operators would be able to charge UK operators for providing roaming services would no longer be regulated after exit day. In other words, surcharge-free roaming when travelling to the EU would no longer be guaranteed.

Some mobile operators (3, EE, O2 and Vodafone) have said that they have no current plans to change their approach to mobile roaming after the UK leaves the EU.

The Guidance provides advice to consumers as to what they should do if their mobile operator is proposing to reintroduce surcharges for roaming or change the terms on which it offers roaming. For example, consumers have the right to switch mobile operator and cancel their contract free of charge if the operator makes certain price increases.

To protect consumers from unexpected charges, the Government has legislated to ensure that the requirements on mobile operators to apply a financial limit on mobile data usage while abroad is retained in UK law, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The limit has been set at £45 per monthly billing period (currently €50 under EU law).

This means that consumers cannot continue to use mobile data services when roaming unless they actively chose to continue spending. The Government has also legislated to continue to ensure that consumers receive alerts when they are at 80% and 100% data usage.

Leaving without a deal would not prevent UK mobile operators making and honouring commercial arrangements with mobile operators in the EU – and beyond the EU – to deliver the services their customers expect, including roaming arrangements.

The Guidance explains that the availability and pricing of mobile roaming in the EU would be a commercial question for the mobile operators.

Northern Ireland

The Guidance advises consumers and businesses in border areas to be aware of “inadvertent roaming”, i.e. when a mobile signal in a border region is stronger from the country across the border. In this case, a consumer from Northern Ireland in a border region of Northern Ireland would roam onto an Irish network as the mobile phone signal is stronger from a network in Ireland.

To help address this issue, the Government has passed legislation that in the event of no deal, UK law will retain the EU Roaming Regulation provisions that operators must make information available to their customers on how to avoid inadvertent roaming in border regions. Operators must also take reasonable steps to protect their customers from paying roaming charges for inadvertently accessing roaming services.

The availability and pricing of mobile roaming in the EU, including across the island of Ireland, would be a commercial decision for the mobile operators. To read the Guidance in full, click here.