Uploading a photo outside EU could cost £30 if trade deals don't extend free roaming

·3 min read
Holidaymakers currently face a range of rules, restrictions and hefty charges when using their phone while travelling outside the EU  - Yui Mok/PA Wire
Holidaymakers currently face a range of rules, restrictions and hefty charges when using their phone while travelling outside the EU - Yui Mok/PA Wire

Britons face having to pay £30 to upload a photo while abroad if free mobile roaming is not extended outside the EU under new trade deals, a new consumer watchdog report has warned.

Holidaymakers currently face a range of rules, restrictions and hefty charges when using their phone while travelling outside the EU and could have their phone blocked once they hit their monthly cap, preventing them from making or receiving calls.

Which? is calling for trade deals to extend free mobile roaming beyond Europe as the latest research reveals holidaymakers in some destinations could be hit by a catalogue of sky-high charges.

The consumer watchdog says it is important that the Government ensures trade deals deliver meaningful benefits for consumers and protect their rights. Roaming is one way in which the Government can demonstrate that it is promoting consumers' interests.

Which? analysed the cost of using data in the four non-EU countries that the UK Government has prioritised for post-Brexit trade deals – the USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and calculated the charges consumers face for functions such as uploading a photo or streaming a song across 13 networks.

The UK has already agreed a trade deal in principle with Japan, although full details have not yet been revealed. However, the Which? analysis found British holidaymakers in Japan currently face high charges when roaming there.

While EE, O2 and Vodafone customers benefit from a daily cap on charges  in Japan, costing between £4.99 and £6 a day, those with Plusnet could face a £30 charge to upload a single 5MB photo. Customers who have adjusted their phone's settings to automatically back up photos onto the cloud could be unwittingly hit with the charge.

The Government is negotiating trade deals with the USA, Australia and New Zealand as well as the EU, where Which? wants the current free roaming provision to be continued.

While many UK mobile networks have daily caps of between £4.80 and £6 a day for roaming in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, customers on other networks could still be paying high fees.

In the USA, Australia or New Zealand, Plusnet customers would also face a £30 fee to upload a 5MB photo, while Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers would have to pay £25. Plusnet customers could be charged £17.28 to stream a four-minute song on Spotify in the USA, Australia or New Zealand, while Virgin and Tesco Mobile customers would face fees of £14.40.

A Plusnet spokesman said: "No one likes surprises when it comes to their bills, so we cap roaming charges at £40 per month and allow customers to reduce this further if they want to. We also send customers a text when they reach 80 per cent of their roaming cap and again when they exceed it, and these charges contribute to their monthly spend cap plan."

All mobile network providers have a 50 euro (approximately £45) monthly cap on roaming under current EU rules in order to prevent customers from racking up expensive bills. However, Which? research suggests customers could quickly hit their limit after uploading just one photo or streaming a few songs.

A Tesco Mobile spokesman said customers are able to cap their bull at any time to avoid unexpected charges.

A Virgin Media spokesman said: "Details of non-EU roaming charges and guidance for using mobile services abroad are clearly outlined on our website and customers are able to connect to a number of WiFi hotspots at no cost when travelling abroad."

Sue Davies, the Which? head of consumer protection, said: "As trade talks intensify with priority countries, it is important that the Government protects and ideally enhances consumer rights. 

"Which? is calling for provisions to be included in these negotiations to put an end to some mobile operators charging excessively high fees when customers are abroad."

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