1 in 4 calls to Surrey Police’s 101 number not answered

By Julie Armstrong, Local Democracy Reporter, 27 November

More than a quarter of non-emergency calls to Surrey Police went unanswered between April and August as the 101 service struggled to cope with the pandemic.

Across the five months, 27% of callers failed to get through to an operator, rising to 43% in July.

More than 9,000 callers wanting to speak to police gave up on the call in August, faced with an average waiting time of nearly four minutes.

Mole Valley District Councillor Paul Kennedy challenged the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) about the increasing number of abandoned calls to 101, at the PCC panel meeting on Tuesday (24 November).

He said: “This represents thousands of missed reports a month about suspicious and antisocial behaviour, drug dealing, domestic abuse, thefts, assaults, vehicle and rural crime.

“The calls come from victims of crime and other concerned members of the public, many of them without access to other forms of communication.”

The average answering time for 101 calls increased from 1min 24secs in March to 3min 51secs in August.

PCC David Munro attributed the delays to Covid-19 social distancing meaning one call centre had to be spread across six sites.

“The contact centre usually operates from one large open-plan office allowing effective supervision and demand management,” he said.

“In addition, there have been times of staff having to isolate and call-taking is not a role that can be done from home.

“Covid restrictions have also affected the recruitment and training of staff. At the same time demand has increased.”

Mr Munro said answering of 999 calls was always prioritised over answering 101 calls.

“This has remained very quick at an average of four seconds,” he said.

“During periods of very high demand, for example, a road traffic incident, calls to the emergency number can spike and 101 calls can take 10 or 20 minutes to answer until that peak demand is passed.”

The PCC also believed some people hanging up may instead make reports online or use the Livechat function.

Cllr Kennedy, who stood for the Liberal Democrats in the 2016 Surrey PCC election, did not accept this was the case. He pointed out the number of calls abandoned rose in line with the average waiting time.

“The primary reason for abandoning a 101 call would appear to be frustration with the length of the call,” he said.

He added: “Performance actually improved during the first two months of lockdown when the Covid-19 risk to staff was at its highest. Performance only deteriorated later, particularly in July.”

A Surrey Police spokesperson said: “It is a combination of being in the usual busiest months of the year (months like December to April are always less), dealing with more complexity in relation to Covid, the introduction of a new system for online reporting and the challenges presented by our contact centre and control room staff having to work from multiple locations in order to socially distance.

“The time to answer 101 for November so far is 1min 42secs, compared to 3min 51secs in August.”

Call data

MarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugust
Received calls21,96020,61522,64522,48621,05529,042
Missed calls4,1273,9403,4165,2109,1129,428
18.8%19.1%15.1%23.2%43.3%32.5%
Answered calls17,83316,67519,22917,27611,94319,614
81.2%80.9%84.9%76.8%56.7%67.5%
Average wait1m24s1m19s1m10s1m57s3m15s3m51s
Data compiled from surrey.police.uk and Freedom of Information

Top image by Peter Douglas from Pixabay