Challenging Mobile Roaming Fees
Going abroad with your mobile phone can be a dicey proposition. All too often, mobile customers return home to find that their phone bill is far higher than they ever imagined it to be. So just what are you supposed to do when you get a bill that you don't think is fair, or that you just can't pay? That's what we're here to find out.
What are Roaming Charges?
Let's start with the basics here. You probably have a phone contract with a UK operator that allows you a certain number of calling minutes, texts, and a data allowance. However, that plan is limited to the UK. If you leave the country (which includes, by the way, travel to the Republic of Ireland), your mobile operator will charge you more for minutes, texts and data, though they won't deduct those minutes/texts/data from your monthly allowance.
More than that, those charges can be a lot more than the equivalent inside the UK. Plus, you may also be charged for RECEIVING calls and texts too. Obviously, this can all add up.
Before we go further, let us say that there are exceptions to this. Some UK operators have special roaming packages or deals, or even roaming included in a contract. Vodafone, for example, has an inclusive roaming in some packages. You'll need to check your carrier contract for more info on this!
I've Got a Huge Roaming Bill, What Can I Do?
Okay, you've come back from hols and been presented with a big bill. What happens next? That rather depends on where you've been and what kind of phone contract you have. Certain circumstances mean you have an automatic right to challenge the bill, while others don't. Let's deal with the positive side first.
When You Have the Right to Challenge Your Bill
There are two circumstances where you have the automatic right to challenge that roaming bill, both of which should result in your bill getting lowered or wiped out altogether. If you have either a capped contract or, have been travelling inside the EU, getting rid of those high charges should be no problem. What are we talking about here? Here's a brief explanation:
Some mobile operators, such as Tesco Mobile and ID Mobile, offer customers the option of capped contracts. This means that you put a monthly spending limit on your bill, and once that limit is reached, you can't be charged more (though you'll probably lose service once your limit has been reached). If you have a capped contract and the bill you have received for roaming exceeds the cap you have set, you can challenge those charges.
Read your capped contract terms and conditions carefully, in some cases, the cap may no longer apply if you are outside of the UK!
Travelling in the EU
If you've been travelling inside the EU, then you should know that the European Commission has placed limits on mobile roaming charges. This limits the amount that any mobile operator can charge you for service. You can find a list of the current limits here, but as of June 15th, 2017, it will no longer be legal for your operator to charge you any roaming fees AT ALL, as long as you're inside the EU. If you travel after June 15th, 2017 and are charged roaming charges, or have travelled before and are charged fees that are more than the EU limit, then you have the right to challenge your bill.
Know your geography! While the EU does cover most of the UK's favourite holiday destinations, it doesn't cover all of them. Turkey is a big exception here. Since Turkey is not an EU country, companies can still charge roaming fees!
Challenging Your Roaming Bill
If you feel that the above conditions apply to you, and you wish to challenge your bill, your first step is to contact your mobile operator by phone. You will need a copy of your bill handy, and a copy of your contract too (you may not need it, but better be prepared). Speak to the customer service operator and explain your problem. In most cases, this should be enough. Do make sure that you get written confirmation (email or letter) of charges being wiped from your account, just in case there's a problem later. If you do not get a satisfactory response by phone, try writing to your operator. You will need a letter of explanation, and a copy of the bill with the disputed charges highlighted. Send this letter by registered mail, and retain the receipt! Contact information for major UK operators is:
If your company does not resolve your problem, try asking for a “Letter of Deadlock.” After a reasonable period (two to three weeks), you may take your case to the Ombudsman. You will need either the receipt of your registered letter as proof that you have attempted to contact the company in question or the letter of deadlock from the operator. There are two official Ombudsmen for mobile operators, and you will need to check your operator's website to find out which they belong to. You will find information about presenting your case on each Ombudsmen's website, which you can find here:
Be aware that the Ombudsman's verdict is binding, so you cannot challenge it!
What About Other Circumstances?
If you were travelling outside of the EU, say to the USA or Turkey, or simply find that the bill you get is too much for you to pay (though the bill itself is correct), then don't give up! You don't have a right to challenge the bill legally in these cases, but that doesn't mean you can't try to get it lowered. In many cases, operators prefer to get some money than no money, so they may be willing to negotiate with you.
Grab a copy of your bill and a copy of your contract and contact your operator's customer service number and explain the problem. You operator may be willing to set up a payment plan for you or to lower the charges. Be aware that they are NOT required to do so, but many will. Be polite and ask for what you need, and you may find that those charges get lowered. Again, make sure that you get any agreement in writing, either by mail or by email.
Better Safe Than Sorry
If you're planning on travelling abroad and taking your phone with you, it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to mobile roaming charges. Though travel inside the EU should be okay from June 15th, 2017, many of us choose to go to other destinations. In these cases, you have several options for lowering roaming charges BEFORE you leave:
- Enquire about the possibility of a capped contract with your operator
- Check and see if your operator has special roaming packages or add-ons that you can purchase before leaving
- Consider investing in a cheap pay as you go SIM card from whichever country you're visiting to get local rates rather than paying roaming charges
- At best, turn off your mobile data. You'll still get calls and texts (and be able to make them) and be charged roaming fees for them, but since roaming data tends to be very pricey, your bills will be lower than they could be.
While mobile roaming charges are decreasing, and in some cases even disappearing, there's always the risk of getting a big bill when you come home from your holidays. Fortunately, if you're prepared, there's every chance that you can lower or even eliminate that bill altogether. Good luck!