15p charge to report a crime

Rebecca Naden/PA Wire

A new non-emergency number, set up by police for the reporting of minor incidents such as car theft, criminal damage and minor road accidents will cost 15p to call.

Senior officers have expressed their concern that the charge for the new 101 number will lead people to instead phone 999, which remains free.

Should it be charged?

There are many concerns over the move, including that it could discourage both witnesses and victims from coming forward. There are also fears that repeat victims of anti-social behaviour who make frequent calls to the police would be the worst hit.

Guy Dehn, Director of Witness Confident, a charity which aims to reverse the walk-on-by attitude when crimes are being committed, said: "Our concern is that even though it's a small amount, some people who are witnesses or who have information – if they are unemployed or on a low income – may think twice before coming forward.

"If you want the public to engage with the police you should reduce the barriers, not create them. 101 is a good idea but it should be free."

Conversely those who back the new scheme say that three-quarters of current 999 calls are for non-emergencies and the new number will reduce pressure on the emergency services.

Already in operation in Wales, the South-West and South-East, parts of the Midlands and in East Anglia, the new 101 number will cover all of England by the end of the year. 15p is the standard charge and applies regardless of how long the call is, what time of day it is made and whether it is from a mobile or land line.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which is behind the scheme, said it should be used to report 'less-urgent crime and disorder' or when providing tip-offs to the police about criminal activity.

101: will it be used?

However, when the number was first introduced in 2006, it failed to reduce 999 calls. Two-thirds of calls in pilot areas were marked as 'not appropriate' with callers reported to have phoned asking for details of the 'next bus to Southampton'.

In 11 forces, the 101 number will replace premium 0845 numbers which often led to much higher call costs. However in many others, including London, it will replace a local number or a freephone number.

An ACPO spokesman said: "The 101 number provides a consistent service to all those calling in a non-emergency situation. Before 101, forces had different numbers, and a national survey revealed that little over half the population knew their local number. The public agreed that a three-digit number would be a better idea.

"For the first time, everyone calling for non-emergency matters will know exactly how much it will cost them and will be assured of equal access whether they are on a pay-as-you-go mobile or a home landline. For many, this will be cheaper than the previous cost as 11 forces used premium rate numbers."

A Home Office spokesman added: "101 gives the public a memorable number that makes crime easier to report. Research shows that a small charge won't discourage people calling, but will reduce the likelihood of it being used inappropriately."

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