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New mobile roaming alert – protections for UK holidaymakers
Ofcom opens consultation on mobile roaming, LNB News 20/07/2023 83
Ofcom has opened a consultation that sets out proposals for new rules and guidance in relation to roaming and inadvertent roaming. Ofcom’s newly proposed rules seeks to bolster customer protection, with rules proposing that UK mobile customers must be notified in a clear, comprehensible and accurate notification about any roaming charges that apply to them when travelling abroad. The consultation closes on 28 September 2023.
On 20 July 2023, Ofcom published a consultation entitled ‘Mobile Roaming: Strengthening customer protections’.
In the consultation, Ofcom has proposed the introduction of new rules which would require mobile operators to provide free roaming alerts and the introduction of measures to avoid inadvertent roaming.
Ofcom’s consultation is open until 28 September 2023, with a decision planned for publication in early 2024.
Under Regulation (EU) 531/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 June 2012 on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the EU (Roaming III), EU roaming providers were under a variety of obligations, directed towards protection of consumers, including (but not limited to) the following:
- an obligation for roaming providers to not apply surcharges for EU retail customers who are roaming within the EU
- an obligation to provide an automatic notification to customers, free of charge, whenever they started roaming
- an obligation to provide customers with an ability to set a billing limit to block use of roaming services after a billing limit has been met
- an obligation to provide customers with information including how to switch off automatic data roaming connections
Despite the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU, Roaming III continued to apply to the UK as retained EU law under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. However, the majority of the protections under Roaming III no longer apply to the UK as at the date of Ofcom’s Consultation, as:
- in preparation for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the Mobile Roaming (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, SI 2019/587 removed the ban on roaming surcharges and removed the guarantee of surcharge-free roaming for UK customers
- Roaming III applied for an initial period of five years from June 2017. As such, in the UK, from 30 June 2022 the remainder of Roaming III’s application to the UK fell away. On 1 July 2022, Regulation (EU) 2022/612 on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the EU (Roaming V) entered into force and has the effect of extending the protections of Roaming III for a period of ten years. Roaming V has no applicability to the UK as it is no longer part of the EU
UK mobile operators have not been subject to any similar ban on applying retail surcharges to UK customers’ use of roaming services outside of the EU, and UK mobile operators can apply surcharges to any use of a UK customer’s mobile services outside of the UK in non-EU countries.
Ofcom proposes to amend Condition C3 of the General Conditions, with the introduction of new conditions C3.15 to C3.17, which will require providers to:
- provide roaming alerts free of charge that meet minimum criteria (Condition C3.15). The alert must be given without undue delay each time a customer’s mobile device connects to a network in the EU or rest of the world. Such notifications must include clear, comprehensible and accurate:
- personalised information on roaming charges (including specifying any fair use data limits and the time period that apply to any daily charges)
- personalised information on mobile bill limits (if the customer has one and what it is set at) and inform customers how to put one in place or amend it
- information on where to find free to access, clear, comprehensible and accurate additional information on roaming charges, fair use policies and how to monitor, reduce and limit spend (such as signposting to a website/text/number)
- provide customers with the option to opt out/opt back in to receiving any notifications referred to above (Condition C3.16)
- have measures in place to enable customers to reduce and/or limit expenditure related to inadvertent roaming while they are in the UK and publish clear, comprehensible and accurate details of those measures, which is easily accessible (Condition C3.17)
- publish clear, comprehensible and accurate information to customers about how to avoid inadvertent roaming both in and outside of the UK, particularly in border regions (Condition C3.17). Ofcom’s guidance is that this should include information about where customers may be more likely to experience inadvertent roaming and about how to adjust settings to connect to a particular network, as well as information on how to turn off roaming, and options available to bar certain roaming services
In parallel with the proposals above, Ofcom has proposed non-exhaustive guidance covering:
- how mobile operators can comply with the new rules, and Ofcom’s likely approach to monitoring and enforcement
- examples of what Ofcom would consider to be good practice, which it would encourage mobile operators to adopt
In light of the changes to roaming regulation in the UK, Ofcom has reviewed customer experiences of roaming in the EU and more broadly, to understand whether customers are adequately protected from potential harms when roaming.
Ofcom proposed to introduce the new rules and guidance in response to:
- findings that to enable consumers to be able to make informed decisions, customers need information in respect of when they are roaming, and timely, clear and accurate information on roaming charges and how to limit their spend
- findings that customers in the UK experience inadvertent roaming when abroad or in the UK (for customers in Northern Ireland)
While regulatory protections are already in place under the General Conditions of Entitlement (see Practice Note: The General Conditions of Entitlement) to ensure that customers are given pricing information and the option to set a mobile bill limit at the time they contract for mobile services, the rationale behind Ofcom’s proposals is primarily to increase transparency and clarity in the information customers receive.
In support of its proposals, Ofcom highlighted that its research showed 72% of customers changed their behaviour because of receiving a roaming alert, with only a small proportion of customers saying they would prefer not to receive such alerts.
While information from providers showed 49% of pay monthly customers have a mobile bill limit in place, Ofcom’s research highlighted a low awareness that a single mobile bill limit would apply to roaming usage as well as their UK usage. For instance, 55% of customers were aware that they could set one for roaming but 28% of customers said they had a mobile limit in place which covered roaming charges.
Ofcom has noted that while many mobile operators already provide roaming alerts to customers, its proposals may require mobile operators to take further steps or to modify their practices.
As such, if Ofcom chooses to introduce such proposed rules, then mobile operators should review their current retail practices around roaming, to ensure they are compliant with the new rules.