Callers swamp police 101 phone system because no other authorities are available

The full weight of demand on the Atlas Court call centre operated by South Yorkshire Police has been revealed – which has been the subject of longstanding criticism over the time callers have been left hanging on for an operator.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 02 April, 2019, 11:56
Dr Alan Billings

A new computer system has recently been installed to help speed up the rate at which call handlers can deal with those telephoning for assistance and other features, such as a call-back facility and ‘web chat’ exchanges, done via a keyboard rather than voice calls, are to be introduced after the technology has been fully tested.

But the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, presented figures on call volumes to a meeting of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, the body made up of councillors which is there to hold him to account.

Between March 25 and April 1, Atlas Court call handlers took 17,197 calls – including 5,495 from those who had dialled 999.

Dr Billings told the meeting: “It is a hugely busy call centre.”

The problem around delays to calls has been largely around those using the 101 service, as the force has sought to protect the 999 element of the service from delays.

Last week, the ‘average’ caller using 101 from 7am to 7pm could expect to wait five minutes and 56 seconds to get a reply, rising to 11 minutes and one second from 7pm to 7am.

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The longest any caller had to wait for a answer on 101 on March 30 was 47 minutes, but the average time callers spend on hold before hanging up was three minutes and 16 seconds, the meeting heard.

Dr Billings told panel members: “I think there is a responsibility for councillors to tell residents the 101 is not for anything you can think of, it is for reporting crime and anti social behaviour.

“It is being used by people who cannot get through to local authorities. This is the only emergency service available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It is being used by people for nothing to do with crime and anti social behaviour.

“It is not the IT, it is not the number of call handlers. It is simply the volume of calls, which goes on and on rising.

“There is still a very long way to go in terms of education and raising public awareness,” he said.