Three has been cutting off customers stranded abroad owing to Covid travel restrictions after they exceeded the the mobile phone company ’s two-month roaming limit.
In recent days, Three’s customers as far afield as Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka, as well as closer to home in Europe have complained that their phone service has been disconnected, leaving them unable to access bank accounts, or take important work or personal calls.
Three, which has long billed itself as the king of roaming, offers customers the chance to use their call, text and data allowance in 71 destinations around the world at no extra cost.
But the deal comes with a “fair usage” and two-month time limit outside Europe, and it appears the company has decided that it is no longer prepared to allow customers who have been abroad for months free access to their call plans.
Three began warning customers by text last month that it would suspend their services unless they got in contact to explain why they were stuck abroad. But customers have found their phones turned off despite telling Three they were unable to get home.
Others who missed the text and found their service cut off have been told that roaming was permanently suspended, and that it would not restore their service.
James Crowley, who is stuck in Australia, contacted Three two weeks ago to explain his position but said the company cut his phone off anyway.
“They completely disabled my sim, rather than just turning off the free roaming and reverting to paid roaming rates which is what I expected. So if like me you’ve been stuck abroad, you can’t receive SMS from your banks or anything else. Even if there were no extenuating circumstances, this seems extreme,” he wrote to Guardian Money.
Eve McCann is stuck in Brazil without phone call access or data roaming.
“No one on live chat can help and my services have been suspended. Extremely worried as I urgently need access for personal and work reasons,” she tweeted.
A Three spokesperson said mobile operators pay foreign providers for the right for their customers to roam.
“We have fair use limits in place to protect against excessive usage. If a customer roams exclusively in a Go Roam Around the World destination for any two complete months in a rolling 12-month period, we’ll usually suspend international roaming on their account,” she said.
“We want to keep our customers connected, especially if they are stuck abroad due to the pandemic. If any customers are facing issues, we encourage them to contact our customer service team.”
She said Crowley’s phone had been cut off owing to a “human error”. He has since been reconnected and the firm has apologised.
Roaming is about to become a hot political issue as the end of the Brexit transition period looms.
Three has said it will continue to offer free roaming in Europe post-Brexit, but the other big operators have not confirmed their plans.
Fee-free roaming across Europe is enshrined in EU law which the UK will no longer be a party to after 31 December, meaning roaming charges could be reimposed on Britons travelling to Europe next year.