Fifth have been hit with roaming charges in the past year, with people still confused about the different costs, what countries they are protected in and how the data caps work
Nine million Brits have returned home from holidaying in the European Union to a combined mobile bill of £573 million over the past year.
This is according to new research from independent price comparison and switching service uSwitch.com, which surveyed 2,030 UK adults who have used a mobile phone abroad between March 31 and April 7.
A fifth of users have been hit with roaming charges in the past 12 months, despite caps imposed by the EU and implemented by UK networks.
Affected customers had to pay an average of £61 on top of their normal monthly bills, although 17 per cent had to fork out over £100 more than usual.
More than a third (35 per cent) of those charged extra for roaming claimed they can’t remember opting out of their network’s €50 automatic caps. From those that have experienced bill shock in the past year, only half remember being notified of the additional charges by their network.
One in seven (14 per cent) UK mobile users think roaming in the EU is now free, while almost a third (32 per cent) said they are unsure if there are charges for using their phones in the EU.
Meanwhile, 17 per cent are so worried about roaming charges they keep their phones switched off the whole time on holiday, and would only use them in emergencies.
uSwitch.com said that while mobile networks offer a range of bundles to help customers save money when abroad, it’s still possible to rack up a large bill in an EU country. It added they only cap mobile data usage at €50, while charges for calls, texts and voicemail usage abroad are uncapped.
Outside the EU, roaming costs per call, text and MB of data are even higher but uSwitch.com said with the same €50 cap often applied by networks, customers could be more inclined to opt out.
Its survey also revealed many Brits are unsure which countries are in the EU, so could be more vulnerable to higher charges. More than four in ten (41 per cent) wrongly believe Turkey is an EU country, while more than one in ten mistakenly think African holiday destinations Morocco and Egypt are in the EU.
Of those that have experienced higher bills in Europe, 22 per cent said it was because they had forgotten to turn their mobile data off upon landing, 19 per cent thought they were using WiFi but were actually roaming, while 18 per cent said it was because they were forced to use their phone in an emergency. One in seven of those who have experienced bill shock are being caught out by not switching their voicemails off – some networks charge customers if someone leaves them a message.
Upon arrival, a third put their phones in flight mode until they have access to free WiFi and only 28 per cent check with their networks to see if there’s a cheaper roaming bundle before leaving the UK. Just 16 per cent have tried buying and using a local SIM in their phones at their destination.
uSwitch.com telecoms analyst Ernest Doku said: “What’s clear is that a real lack of awareness persists when it comes to using mobiles abroad. People are confused about the different roaming charges, what countries they are protected in and how the data caps work.
“Measures in place to financially protect UK mobile users abroad aren’t robust enough, and are too easily rendered ineffective. The networks’ cap of around €50 is clearly insufficient in that it only covers mobile data, and doesn’t extend to calls, texts and voicemail costs. Almost a quarter (23%) of people who opted out of their networks’ roaming caps and were hit with big bills say they opted out intentionally, which suggests the cap is too restrictive.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating that the EU has delayed taking action after the Commission originally signalled it would abolish these charges at the end of this year. EU roaming charges must be scrapped now. There’s no justification for the mixed messages that are confusing people, leaving yet more holidaymakers stung with unexpectedly high bills for, possibly, years to come.
“Extending automatic caps to cover calls, texts and voicemails, as well as data, could be a simple solution that would encourage more people to feel comfortable using their mobiles abroad. However, this would make the €50 limit even more restrictive, so it’s essential that charges are lowered to make it a manageable solution. And mobile networks don’t need to wait for the EU to make improvements, with providers like Three already leading the way with its Feel At Home offering.”