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Summer Surge in Unanswered 101 Police Calls Blamed on Pandemic

Published on: 28 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 28 Nov, 2020

Graph by Paul Kennedy

By Julie Armstrong
local democracy reporter

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, rising to 43% in July. More than 9,000 callers wanting to speak to police gave up on their call in August, faced with an average four-minute waiting time.

Cllr Paul Kennedy

At the November 24 PCC panel meeting, district Cllr Paul Kennedy (Lib Dem, Mole Valley), challenged Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro about the increasing number of abandoned calls to 101,

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.

David Munro

Mr 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.”

Data compiled from and Freedom of Information:

March April May June July August
Received calls 21,960 20,615 22,645 22,486 21,055 29,042
Missed calls 4,127 3,940 3,416 5,210 9,112 9,428
18.8% 19.1% 15.1% 23.2% 43.3% 32.5%
Answered calls 17,833 16,675 19,229 17,276 11,943 19,614
81.2% 80.9% 84.9% 76.8% 56.7% 67.5%
Average wait 1m24s 1m19s 1m10s 1m57s 3m15s 3m51s


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, 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.

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

A Surrey Police spokesperson said: “It is a combination of being in the usual busiest months of the year (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 to socially distance.

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

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