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Holidaymakers travelling outside the EU risk paying mobile bills up to 80 times higher than they need to, owing to roaming charges, a charity has warned.
Citizens Advice said that travellers who did not buy a ‘bolt-on’ – allowing for a set amount of data use – could see higher bills.
The other option is for travellers to turn off data roaming on their devices while travelling.
The charity is calling for a price cap to ensure nobody is caught out.
Citizens Advice chef executive Gillian Guy warned: “Using the internet on your mobile abroad can cost more than the holiday itself.
“Most people don’t think in megabytes, and don’t choose their mobile provider based on roaming rates.
“The market shouldn’t be a lottery where some customers can be unwittingly plunged into life-changing amounts of debt just because they used their phone.
“A voluntary price cap would help better protect customers and companies could do more by giving more warnings to customers if their bills start to rise.”
The highest per-megabyte roaming rate is capped at 17p within the EU. But outside the EU this does not apply, and researchers found it can cost up to £12.50.
It has seen military personnel billed for thousands of pounds after leaving their data roaming on while deployed abroad and a holidaymaker who turned on data roaming to download an album while in Egypt and was charged £1,500.
Watching an episode of Eastenders could cost up to £1,360 in Turkey, compared to a maximum of £32 inside the EU, according to Citizens Advice.
Consumers pay different rates depending on which provider their contract is with, where they travel, and whether they have bought a ‘bolt-on’ which gives them a set amount of data to use abroad for a fixed cost.
Currently, providers need to send a warning message to customers who are outside the EU when a bill reaches €50 euro, asking them if they want to continue.
But Citizens Advice said that because there was no requirement to contact the customer again, users could suffer much higher bills without knowing.
To protect themselves against high charges, consumers can check that their data roaming is off and contact their provider to find out their tariff – but Citizens Advice wants companies to do more to help.
It wants to see a voluntary agreement which would include standard warnings for customers about how much they were spending on data at regular intervals above the €50 level, and a maximum per megabyte cost, so travellers have clarity over how much it cost to use data outside the EU.
Data roaming charges are due to be abolished within the EU by June 2017, preceded by a 14-month interim period when companies can still add surcharges but at a reduced rate.
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