71% of British people furious about £2 per day roaming charges

Mobile networks can't help themselves, there's profit to be made

(Image credit: ee)

British people feel that the reintroduction of roaming charges is unfair according to a new survey. Apparently 71% of respondents felt that the UK’s exit from the EU shouldn’t carry with it any additional charges, even though this was an inevitable outcome of the UK’s decision to leave the trading bloc. 

Only 22% of people thought that it was reasonable for mobile operators to start charging extra for data roaming in EU nations like France, Spain and Germany. Of the total surveyed, 7% didn’t know if it was fair or unfair, according to YouGov. The survey also asked if roaming charges would have an impact on the tariffs people chose and 68% responded that, yes, indeed it would. 

Find out which networks are charging in our guide to EU Roaming charges: data caps on EE, Vodafone, Three and O2 and more explained

I found all this fairly interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Brexit was always likely to see the reintroduction of roaming charges. It wasn’t even the UK leaving the EU that made it likely, that was all down to capitalism. Because as far as I can tell there’s no reason for mobile operators to add charges. They may argue some form of increased costs, but looking at European providers the same isn’t true in reverse. 

I checked out a small sample of mobile networks in the EU from France, Germany and Sweden and none of them excludes the UK from EU roaming. That, presumably, means either they are being charged when their customers roam in the UK and they’re eating the costs. Or, it could be the case that from their perspective nothing has changed. The agreements that were in place before Brexit are still in place and operators have agreed not to add extra charges to their customers. 

This clearly isn’t the case for UK operators, two of which have added the mysterious £2 per day surcharge for using data abroad. This is such a small sum of money that most people will just pay it and be happy, and I suspect that’s sort of the point. This is pure and simple a money-making exercise and not one that are European friends are seeing on their bills. 

Now of course I haven’t checked every single EU operator so I can’t say for sure none of them has added charges to use data in the UK, but the sample I did check all made clear that the UK was included as part of the package. Many have data caps, and customers are free to use that as they see fit across the EU. 

To do some maths, I had a quick and dirty search online. I don’t pretend these numbers are super-accurate but it looks like the top three EU destinations for British people in 2019 were Spain at 18 million, France at 10 million and Italy with 5 million. That’s 33 million visits and while I don’t have numbers for how many nights away that involves, even if we’re talking just one or two that’s a potentially massive profit for companies bunging an extra £2 per day on your mobile bill. 

The UK government could have mandated that roaming charges in the EU were not applied, but it opted not to. Instead it demanded transparency for bills, and I don’t think anyone is arguing that these extra charges aren’t clear. It’s also important to point out that neither Vodafone nor EE is currently applying these charges to existing customers, so the total cash haul for charges will be quite small initially, but could very easily build as the years go on. 

Ian has been involved in technology journalism since 2007, originally writing about AV hardware back when LCDs and plasma TVs were just gaining popularity. Nearly 15 years on, he remains as excited about how tech can make your life better.