The new 101 number, which represents the biggest shake up in the way we contact police since the 999 number was rolled out 70 years ago, is designed for crimes and concerns that do not represent an immediate threat to life, or are ongoing.

The new number is expected help police respond to genuine emergencies more effectively. Currently only a quarter of 999 calls actually require an emergency response. Emergency operators may tell people to hang up and call 101 if it’s not an emergency.

However, there’s a sting in the tail. Victims or witnesses of crime will have to pay 15p to telephone police and report incidents on the 101 line. The 999 call is free.

Calls to 101 cost 15p from both mobile phones and landlines, regardless of how long the call is or when it is made.

Victim groups last night warned the new fee-charging line could deter people from reporting minor offences. Those who are the victims of persistent, low-level nuisance, would also have to call the line.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: “Charging 15p could turn a good idea into a self defeating one, with people either phoning 999 or not bothering to report a crime at all.

“Over 50 per cent of crime goes unreported and we need to be careful we do’t deter people from reporting it.

“This could lead to some victims and witnesses of crime suffering in silence or the police being unable to get a proper picture of crime in their community.”

Commander Ian Dyson, of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: “Having just two phone numbers – 101 for reporting a crime that has happened, to get advice or to raise local policing issues – or 999 if it’s an emergency, makes calling the police a lot easier and makes our services more accessible.

“999 should only be used in an emergency, that is when a crime is happening, when someone suspected of a crime is nearby, or where someone is injured, being threatened or in danger.

“For all other matters the public should call us on 101.”

The 101 line was first launched as a pilot scheme by the last Labour Government, when it cost 10p to call, but was abandoned in 2007 because it did not reduce the number of 999 calls. Two thirds of calls were also deemed inappropriate, including people asking for bus times.
Last year the Coalition revived the scheme and began a national roll out, which has now been completed.