Out of hours phone services returning to Sheffield Council

A police call handler. Picture: Dean Atkins
A police call handler. Picture: Dean Atkins
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Sheffield Council is to bring three out of hours telephone services back in-house following worries over the length of time police were taking to answer calls.

The hotlines handle enquiries from vulnerable adults, children and homeless people, as well as some reports of anti-social behaviour, and were entrusted to South Yorkshire Police seven years ago to become part of the 101 non-emergency number at an annual cost of £252,000.

However, the council believes bringing the services back in-house will 'improve call performance' while making savings of almost £50,000 per year.

Police have been 'unable to consistently achieve' a target of answering 90 per cent of calls within 30 seconds, a report to the deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, Coun Olivia Blake, said.

The authority's own out-of-hours housing repairs service, based at Manor Lane, 'overachieves' by answering 96 per cent of calls against a benchmark of 85 per cent.

"Conversely, for the period February 2016 to February 2017, SYP call performance dipped as low as 23.1 per cent for its homeless service enquiries," said the report.

"These vulnerable callers were abandoning between 26 and 35 seconds, and then redialling as they are unable to get through."

Officers emphasised that the change would allow police to deal with 'immediate life or death anti-social behaviour calls, rather than being bogged down with non-core work'.

The 101 number went live in Sheffield in 2005 and has 'proved a lifeline for people who may not have previously reported issues to the council or police', the report said.

Sheffield Council was one of the only areas that kept up a partnership with the police after the initial Home Office funding was withdrawn. The three extra services were transferred in 2010.

No formal contract is presently in place, which allows the arrangement to be terminated at any time, with payments made to the police force on a monthly basis.

"In addition, despite the 101 service being available to all South Yorkshire residents - in line with the policing model - Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster Councils have never contributed to the funding of this service."

The Manor Lane call centre has 'capacity to deliver more work', the report said. "Insourcing is the current financially viable option."

Supt Bob Chapman, temporary head of force communications at South Yorkshire Police, said: “We have worked closely with Sheffield Council for the past 12 years, supporting their out of hours service. Recently, the council felt they were able to take on these calls.

“South Yorkshire Police has a good relationship with Sheffield Council and we have been planning for the handover of these calls for some time to ensure our customers do not experience any change in the service they currently receive.

“This service will not change until February 1 and a full publicity campaign will be launched to ensure the residents of Sheffield are aware of who they should call to report their incident.”

Paul Taylor, head of customer services at Sheffield Council, said: “We’re working closely with South Yorkshire Police to ensure there is a smooth handover when the services come back into the council. We want to relieve pressure for them, whilst also improving the service residents receive when making complaints about things the council is responsible for. We will continue to work with the police to get the best for residents.”