Two-tier calls plan to ease 999 pressure

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A two-tier emergency hotline system will be unveiled by the Government next year in an attempt to stop the 999 number being swamped by non-urgent calls to the police.

A two-tier emergency hotline system will be unveiled by the Government next year in an attempt to stop the 999 number being swamped by non-urgent calls to the police.

Three forces will pilot a 0845 number from March which will then be made available everywhere.

Ministers and senior police officers are still finalising arrangements for the number, which callers will be encouraged to use for "minor emergencies" such as lost credit cards or queries about police station opening hours.

However, victim support groups have criticised the plans, saying a 0845 number will be difficult to remember and make it harder to report crimes.

Ministers are keen to ensure 999 lines are kept available for genuine emergencies. Home Office research shows that 70 per cent of the 8.4 million 999 calls to police last year did not require an emergency response.

The number of 999 calls has increased by 30 per cent in the past four years. These includeaccidental calls from mobile phones. In the Midlands, police had to launch a campaign last year asking people to stop dialling 999 to wish them a Merry Christmas.

The Association of Chief Police Officers initially suggested using 888 for the new non-emergency number.

Northamptonshire's Chief Constable Chris Fox, Acpo's vice-president, was quoted saying: "If [people] could call 888 they would be routed straight to their local police station."

However, this plan was shelved after Oftel pointed out that introducing an 888 hotline would involve changing 100,000 numbers in London.

Nine regional forces already have their own numbers for non-emergency problems.Hampshire Police, for example, has a 0845 number which diverts callers to their local police station.

Ministers hope a national non-emergency number will rival the popularity of the NHS Direct helpline. They also want to make it easier for the public to reportless-serious crimes.

Victim Support, the charity for crime victims, said a non-emergency hotline would be successful only if the number was easy to remember. A spokesman said: "In theory a main emergency number is a good thing, especially if it would encourage people to report a crime.

"But if the number is not memorable then people are less likely to use it."

Additional reporting by James Merino

Comments