Brexit may mean “much higher” mobile phone bills for Britons travelling on the continent, a committee of MPs has found.
The government is not planning to maintain the EU’s ban on mobile roaming charges for voice, text messages and data following withdrawal, the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee said in a report.
This means it will be up to network operators whether to reintroduce roaming charges on UK customers, following their abolition last year across the whole EU.
UK consumers will also not benefit from proposed price caps for international calls between EU countries, due initially to be set at 16p a minute for calls and 5p for a text message.
The EU decided to introduce the cap after finding that telecoms companies were charging mark-ups for international calls that were “not justifiable”, said the report.
The cross-party committee warned: “It is probable that mobile roaming charges – abolished on an intra-EU basis – will return, and that, even where they do not, increased wholesale roaming costs incurred by UK providers may be passed on to UK consumers indirectly.”
They advised phone users: “Post-exit, consumers should consider the roaming policies of their mobile operators extremely carefully before signing new contracts or using roaming services, as there will be potential for roaming charges much higher than those which preceded the EU’s latest regulatory intervention to be applied.”
The report said that the government would be able to limit the extent to which operators can directly charge UK consumers for roaming services, and some operators may not reintroduce roaming charges.
But it warned: “The government cannot prevent operators from incurring these increased costs, which may over time be passed on to consumers by a variety of means, (for example) higher contract costs.”
The government has said that UK mobile operators were not believed to have any current plans to change their approach to roaming after Brexit.
But the committee warned that this “may not be sustainable” as EU providers will be free to increase the wholesale charges they apply to British-based networks.
“There may be an incentive for them to do so, as more UK consumers holiday in the EU27 than vice-versa, and UK consumers are more inclined to use large amounts of roaming data when abroad than their European counterparts,” said the report.
“If this comes to pass, higher operating costs will either have to be absorbed by mobile operators or passed on to consumers in one form or another – for example, higher wholesale roaming charges could be passed on to consumers through higher overall prices, rather than through the reintroduction of roaming charges.”
The committee warned of confusion between “roam like at home” offers made by commercial companies, where the cost of roaming is priced into a more expensive product, and the EU’s “Roam like at Home” regime under which it is a legal requirement for all contracts to allow consumers to use domestic mobile allowances throughout the EU without surcharges.