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Calls to the 101 number are now free as charges are scrapped

Contract re-negotiations with Vodaphone will also explore how new digital contact system might work with wider number of agencies

From today (Wednesday) people who call the non emergency police 101 number will no longer be charged for the call.

The system has been the subject of frequent criticism because although it was designed to take pressure off the 999 system, long waiting times meant members of the public in some force areas either frequently abandoned calls or phoned 999 instead when they didn’t get a response.

The I01 system is wholly police owned and run by Vodaphone but the contract is up for renegotiation which could see how the system operates transformed within three years as forces look to widen the availability of digital contact platforms.

The Home Office confirmed that although the 15p call charge will be scrapped for most people, from 1 April to 1 July there remains a chance that users of small operators will be charged for using the 101 service. The Home Office will be urging those providers to refund their customers.

In May last year the Home Office announced it will invest £7 million a year to make the service free, which receives around 30 million calls annually.

But some 80 per cent of 101 calls do not require policing services but those of other agencies.

There are also moves to provide a common national platform so that everyone in England and Wales can report crime online free of charge.

There are 20 forces currently using the Single Online Home (SOH) system which started in the Met. This is a web platform that hosts the website of each force, enabling them to provide a free non-emergency crime reporting service online. The Single Online Home currently reaches more than half of the population of England and Wales according to the Home Ofice.

Forces that are not currently on this platform also provide online forms or alternative online channels for reporting non-urgent crime, which are processed in the same way as a call.

Policing led services have been gradually added to Single Online Home as more forces have adopted it. There are plans for example to allow all forces to conduct Firearms Licensing applications through the platform.

Not every force is happy with the SOH system. At least one force has complained that public engagement with the platform was lower than with the system it replaced. Police Oracle understands that the issue arises because some forces have quite advanced digital contact platforms and do not want to 'scale down' to a nationally-imposed system that may initially provide less functionality.

The Home Office also continues to provide funding to forces for a new Police.uk website, which once launched, will provide a single point of access to police information and services, including online reporting.

The 101 service was launched nationally in December 2011, providing an accessible number for non-emergency contact with the police.

Hampshire Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney is involved in the re-negotiation of the contract for the 101 system with Vodaphone. She told Police Oracle at the recent NPCC conference in London that the renegotiation of the contract was a ‘medium term’ process which is probably three years away.

“How do we do that in a way that is beyond voice, beyond people coming into police stations – all of which matters and needs to be retained  - but we are working in a very different world,” she says. “At the very least we must meet expectations that are way beyond purely voice”. 

While the UK police essentially ‘own’ the 101 service there have been discussions at Home Office level about whether the system could become a shared contact system for other blue light services and public services such as mental health as well.

Those discussions are at a very early stage but may provide an opportunity for the police service to start ‘putting in building blocks’ which will extend the 101 system outside the area of voice only and ‘build in other channels’ she said.

This would include online, text and multiple other contact channels. A quicker and easier fix is to allow the 101 system to be used for Welsh language speakers in the four Welsh force areas – something which will probably be funded by central government.  

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