Meeting 999 response targets a ‘challenge’ amid budget cuts, police chief says

Only one police force in the UK is meeting a target to answer 90% of 999 calls in under 10 seconds, new data has shown.

31 May 2022

Meeting a target to answer 90% of 999 calls in less than 10 seconds is a “significant challenge for policing” at a time of squeezed budgets, a police chief has said as new data revealed only one force in the UK is attaining the goal.

Avon and Somerset Police was the only force to meet the standard, according to national statistics released for the first time by the Home Office.

Forty-three forces failed to meet it over the six months from November 2021 to April 2022.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for contact management, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd, said the figures demonstrated the high level of demand on call handlers.

He told the PA news agency in Belfast that police services “deal with 12 million 999 calls a year from the public and that demand is going up 5% every year, year-on-year, so it is a difficult space in terms of demand for police service.

“The complexity of those calls and the time taken to handle those calls is going up year-on-year at a time when police budgets are at best static and in some cases falling in terms of the support we’re able to provide for contact management centres.

“So that is a challenge, but it is a challenge that, alongside this data release today and working with public accountability bodies across the UK, we aim to further improve upon the good work we’ve done to date”.

Overall, 71% of 999 calls were answered within 10 seconds, the data showed.

Humberside Police recorded the worst number, with only 2% of calls answered in less than 10 seconds. South Yorkshire Police answered 17%, Durham Police 41%, North Yorkshire 44% and Gloucestershire 49%.

Police Scotland aim to have a mean answering time of under 10 seconds, and recorded 10.1 over the period.

Mr Todd said: “This is the first time police forces and the public have been able to see the time it takes to answer 999 calls from the call being made by the public, it being connected to the police by BT and local providers, to it being answered by police call handlers.”

Police services are working with providers to resolve lag times that sometimes occur in connecting calls to the police, he added.

He also blamed the waits on “too many calls to police services right across the UK that are either prank calls or hoax calls or just inappropriate use of the 999 system”.

He said there were a “large number” of such calls that vary “from place to place”, without specifying further.

Public Order Bill
Home Secretary Priti Patel said ‘the public deserve to know that their local police force will be at the end of the phone’ (Danny Lawson/PA)

Home Secretary Priti Patel said “the public deserve to know that their local police force will be at the end of the phone, ready to leap into action at seconds’ notice to protect them from harm”.

“Fundamentally, publishing this data is about driving up standards in our incredible emergency services even further, so that the public can have every confidence in the police’s ability to save lives and keep our streets safe,” she added.

“We can now see where forces are excelling and where vital improvements need to be made and I thank the police for their commitment to ensuring we maintain the best emergency services in the world.”

It comes after the BBC reported that freedom of information requests obtained from 22 police forces in England and Wales suggested officers are now 28% slower to attend Grade 1 emergencies.

This equates to taking three minutes longer on average to arrive at serious incidents.

The BBC said responses from 19 forces in England and Wales suggested they were 44% slower to arrive at serious incidents than in 2013.

Here is a list of the average answering time for 999 calls between November 2021 and April 2022 for every territorial police force in the UK, except the City of London.

The data only covers 999 calls intended for the police and does not include 999 calls for other emergency services.

The list is ordered alphabetically and reads, from left to right: name of police force; average (mean) answering time in seconds; percentage of calls answered under 10 seconds; percentage of calls answered between 10 and 60 seconds; percentage of calls answered after 60 seconds.

All percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

Avon & Somerset 6.2 92% 8% 1%
Bedfordshire 19.2 70% 21% 9%
Cambridgeshire 13.5 72% 25% 3%
Cheshire 18.2 76% 17% 7%
Cleveland 8.5 82% 17% 1%
Cumbria 11 83% 15% 2%
Derbyshire 10.7 58% 41% 1%
Devon & Cornwall 21 71% 21% 8%
Dorset 17 63% 32% 5%
Durham 22.8 41% 49% 10%
Dyfed Powys 10.1 81% 16% 3%
Essex 12.1 79% 18% 3%
Gloucestershire 27.1 49% 40% 11%
Greater Manchester 24 69% 19% 12%
Gwent 16.1 80% 14% 6%
Hampshire 12.2 72% 25% 2%
Hertfordshire 15.7 73% 23% 5%
Humberside 16.8 2% 95% 3%
Kent 16.9 67% 26% 7%
Lancashire 14 63% 35% 2%
Leicestershire 8.4 89% 8% 3%
Lincolnshire 6 89% 10% 1%
Merseyside 11.1 80% 16% 4%
Metropolitan 18.8 70% 23% 7%
Norfolk 8.3 84% 15% 1%
Northamptonshire 6.4 87% 12% 0%
Northern Ireland 9.7 76% 23% 1%
Northumbria 33.3 55% 29% 16%
North Wales 8.9 78% 21% 2%
North Yorkshire 29.3 44% 43% 13%
Nottinghamshire 8 89% 10% 1%
Scotland 10.1 84% 14% 2%
South Wales 21.6 71% 18% 11%
South Yorkshire 20.5 17% 76% 7%
Staffordshire 21.3 81% 10% 9%
Suffolk 19 81% 12% 7%
Surrey 9.6 82% 17% 1%
Sussex 10.6 81% 18% 1%
Thames Valley 11.3 83% 15% 3%
Warwickshire 9.4 78% 20% 2%
West Mercia 11.7 78% 20% 2%
West Midlands 23.2 63% 25% 11%
West Yorkshire 11.3 79% 19% 2%
Wiltshire 16.6 61% 34% 5%

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