Press release:

Brits still hit with annual mobile roaming bills of £573 million after holidaying in the EU

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With EU roaming charges no longer being abolished this year, new research from uSwitch.com reveals EU holidaymakers are still at risk of high mobile bills

  • Despite EU-wide mobile roaming caps designed to protect UK holidaymakers, a fifth (20%) have returned home from an EU trip in the past year to find their bill was higher than usual, amounting to £573 million collectively[1]
  • One in six (17%) had to pay upwards of £100 on top of their normal bill, while the average was an extra £61, rising to £72 for 18-34 year olds[2]
  • Many of us don’t know which countries are in the EU, leaving us prone to bigger bill shock: 41% wrongly think Turkey is an EU country, while some mistakenly think popular African holiday destinations Morocco (13%) and Egypt (11%) are in the EU[4]
  • com provides top tips for holidaymakers, to help keep mobile bills to a minimum when using phones abroad.

In the past year, nine million Brits have returned home from holidaying in the European Union to a combined mobile bill of £573 million[1], according to new research from uSwitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. A fifth (20%) of UK mobile users have been hit with roaming charges in the past 12 months[1], in spite of caps on roaming charges imposed by the EU and implemented by UK networks.

Affected mobile customers had to pay an average of £61 on top of their normal monthly bills, although one in six (17%) had to fork out over £100 more than usual[2]. Hardest hit are 18-34 year olds, stung with an average bill of £72 – higher than any other age group[2].

More than a third (35%) of those charged extra for roaming in the EU are baffled as to why, claiming they cannot remember opting out of their network’s €50 automatic caps[5]. Of those who have experienced bill shock in the EU in the past year, just half (50%) remember being notified of the additional charges by their network[6].

Worryingly, one in seven (14%) UK mobile users think roaming in the EU is now free of charge, and almost a third (32%) say they aren’t sure if there are charges for using their phones in the EU[10]. Meanwhile, one in six (17%) UK mobile users are so worried about roaming charges they keep their phones switched off the whole time on holiday, and would only use them in emergencies[7].

While the mobile networks offer a number of bundles to help people save money when abroad, it’s still possible to rack up a large bill in an EU country. UK networks usually only cap mobile data usage at around €50[3], while charges for calls, texts and voicemail usage abroad are uncapped. A pay monthly user going to France for two weeks could easily amass a roaming bill of £74, based on making three calls, receiving two calls and sending five text messages each day – totalling £50.98 – as well as using just 10MB of mobile data per day, costing £23.47[3].

Outside the EU, roaming costs per call, text and MB of data are higher still. But with the same €50 cap often applied by networks, customers could be more inclined to opt out. uSwitch.com’s research reveals that many Brits are not sure which countries are in the EU, so they could be more vulnerable to higher roaming charges. More than four in 10 (41%) incorrectly believe Turkey is an EU country, while more than one in 10 mistakenly think that popular African holiday destinations Morocco (13%) and Egypt (11%) are in the EU[4].

But, even if you know your EU countries, it’s still very easy to get caught out. Of those people who have experienced higher bills in Europe, 22% said it was because they had forgotten to turn their mobile data off upon landing, 19% thought they were using Wi-Fi but were actually roaming, while 18% said it was because they were forced to use their phone in an emergency[8]. One in seven (14%) of those who’ve experienced bill shock are being caught out by not switching their voicemails off[8] – some networks charge customers if someone leaves them a message, even if they don’t listen to it.

Upon arrival, just a third (34%) of holidaymakers put their phones in flight mode until they have access to free Wi-Fi[9]. And only around three in 10 (28%) check with their networks to see if there’s a cheaper roaming bundle before leaving the UK[9]. Only 16% have tried buying and using a local SIM card in their phones at their destination and just 12% disable their voicemails when abroad[9].

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com says: “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[5].

“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.”

uSwitch.com’s top five tips to make sure holidaymakers are roaming ready:

  1. Call your network before you go abroad, tell them what country you’re travelling to, and ask if they have a roaming bundle you can apply. This information should also be available on their website. Don’t ignore any texts from your network while abroad.
  2. Switch off roaming in your mobile’s settings while still in the UK, just in case you forget to do so when you land overseas. If you don’t, your apps may start using mobile data as soon as you switch your smartphone on.
  3. Make the most of free Wi-Fi hotspots in airports, stations, hotels and cafés. Remember that your Wi-Fi settings must be switched on so your phone can ‘find’ these hotspots, but be wary of unsecured connections from a security perspective.
  4. Buying a local pay-as-you-go SIM card can help keep costs down, but it will only work if your phone is unlocked. In certain countries, you’ll need a ‘tri-band’ phone in order for a SIM to work there. Most smartphones are now tri-band.
  5. Check whether EU roaming caps cover the country you’re travelling to. Only EU member states, plus some associated countries such as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, are covered.

For more advice on roaming and what the different providers offer click HERE

For more information visit www.uswitch.com or call 0800 093 0607

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Notes to editors

uSwitch.com surveyed 2,030 UK adults who have used a mobile phone abroad between 31 March and 7 April 2015. The data was collected by Opinium Research.

  1. Proportion of adults who personally own/use a mobile phone in the UK is 93% according to Ofcom. According to ONS there are 50,501,583 UK adults aged 18 and over. 93% of that figure is 46,966,472. 20% of those surveyed have had a higher bill than normal in the past 12 months after returning from an EU trip, averaging an extra £61 each. 20% of 46,966,472 = 9,393,294 x 61 = £572,990,934
  2. Respondents with a higher bill than normal in the past 12 months after returning from an EU trip were asked: ‘approximately how much higher was it?’ – the mean was £61. The age split showed this was £72 for 18-34 year olds, £58 for 35-54 year olds and £34 for those aged 55+
  3. This calculation is based on a pay monthly customer contacting the UK from France, using average costs in the table below. Make three calls per day at £2.97 + receive two calls per day at £0.432 + send five texts at £0.24 x 14 days = £50.98. Data – browse 5 web pages 500KB, check 10 emails 1000KB, 5 instant messenger sessions 500KB, download a song 5MB, download a photo 2MB, watch a 2 minute video 1000KB = 9.86MB x £0.17 x 14 days = £23.47 – data allowances taken from uSwitch.com. Total roaming bill = £74.45.
Network Make calls (per min) Receive calls (per min) Send 1 SMS text message Data (per MB) Automatic data caps? Additional add ons
Virgin Media 18p 0p 5p £1.50 for 10MB travel pass, £6 for 50MB, £20 for 250MB (12.5p) travel pass to be used within 30 days Yes – €50 N/A
EE 18.8p 4.9p 5.9p £3 for 50MB, £5 for 100MB to use in 24hrs or can buy £12 for 200MB, £25 for 500MB (16.6p) to be used across 7 days Yes – must buy a data add on for data to work at all EE Extra unlimited calls and texts in the EU or £2 per day
Orange 18.8p 4.9p 5.9p 19.8p per MB. Bundles: £3 for 50MB or £5 for 100MB to use in 24hrs Yes – £49.55 Unlimited calls and texts in the EU for £2 per day
T-Mobile 18.8p 4.9p 5.9p £3 for 50MB, £5 for 100MB Internet Travel Booster to use in 24hrs or £12 for 200MB, £25 for 500MB (20p) to use across 7 days Yes – must buy add on for data to work at all Unlimited calls and texts in the EU for £2 per day
O2 18p 4.8p 5p 19.6p. Or £1.99 a day for as much data as you need with O2 Travel. Yes – £48 or £120 O2 Travel – £1.99 per day for data, 50p per call for 60 minutes
Three 0p 0p 0p Comes out of your allowance, 10p per MB after that Yes – £41.29 Feel At Home – use your phone abroad at no extra cost
Vodafone 18.7p 4.9p 5.8p 19.8p Yes – £41.29 Vodafone EuroTraveller or WorldTraveller.- use your inclusive mins, texts and data
Tesco Mobile 18p 4p 5p 19p Yes – £40 Capped contracts allow you to include a safety buffer of £40 that includes data, texts and minutes
giffgaff 18p 4p 5p 19p No – capped by how much credit you have N/A
TalkTalk 18p 4p 5p 19p Yes – €50 N/A
Average 16.5p 3.6p 4.8p 17p    

Automatic caps include only data and not calls and texts: http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/money-charges/mobile-roaming-costs/index_en.htm

  1. All respondents were asked: ‘(Without cheating!) please test yourself on whether you think the following countries are or aren’t in the EU? and were asked to work through a list of countries, both in and outside the EU
  2. Respondents who have experienced EU bill shock were asked: ‘UK mobile networks automatically impose their own EU roaming caps of around £40 or €50 on their customers. If you have returned from a trip to another EU country to find a bill that was higher than this, do you know why this was?’ – 19% accidentally opted out of their network’s roaming caps, 23% intentionally opted out, 35% have no idea as they don’t remember opting out, 23% have no idea as they were confused about what caps were in place
  3. Respondents who have experienced EU bill shock were asked: ‘Aside from your usual monthly bill statement, did your provider specifically notify you of the unusual charges you incurred whilst abroad? E.g. via text. This is in addition to the standard text you receive when you arrive abroad, explaining what the basic rates are to call, text and use data’ – 50% said yes, 50% said no
  4. All respondents were asked: ‘Which of the following statements best applies to you when you’re abroad?’ – 17% said ‘I keep my phone switched off the whole time and only use it if in an emergency’
  5. Respondents who have experienced EU bill shock were asked: ‘What do you think were the reasons for why your bill was higher than usual?’ 45% said it was simply because of higher roaming charges in Europe, 22% forgot to turn data off (including GPS), 19% thought they were using Wi-Fi but were actually roaming, 18% had to use their phone due to an emergency, 14% forgot to turn off voicemail, 13% were roaming on 4G and this wasn’t included in their bundle, 10% forgot to put their phone in flight mode, 10% said a child took it and used it without their permission
  6. All respondents were asked: ‘Do you do any of the following when you go abroad?’ – 34% put their phone in flight mode until they can find free Wi-Fi, 28% check with their network before leaving to find out if there’s a bundle, 16% buy a local SIM and use it in their phones once at their destination, 15% check if there’s a roaming cap in place on their account, 12% disable their voicemail, 28% do none of the above
  7. All respondents were asked whether the following statements were true or false: ‘There are no extra charges for people from the UK using their mobiles in other EU countries’ – 14% said true, 53% said false, 32% said don’t know.

 

About us

Launched in September 2000, uSwitch is an online and telephone price comparison and switching service, helping consumers get a better deal on gas, electricity, broadband, TV services, mobiles and personal finance products including mortgages, credit cards, car and home insurance. Last year we saved UK consumers over £278 million on their energy bills alone.

Customers can sign up to an account that automatically monitors the energy market and notifies them when they can move to a cheaper tariff, while broadband customers can conduct a speed test to find out how fast their broadband is and identify the best deal for their postcode.

The multi award-winning 'Switching Made Simple' app allows customers to compare energy, broadband, credit card, mobile and SIM-only deals – and uSwitch also has a UK contact centre manned by energy and broadband experts. Customers can post their latest energy bills to FREEPOST USWITCH to receive a free call back and be guided through the comparison process, or they can email customerservices@uswitch.com with their postcode and usage details.

uSwitch is owned by ZPG, which operates some of the UK’s most trusted digital brands that help empower smarter property and household decisions including Zoopla, Money, PrimeLocation and SmartNewHomes.

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