The 101 service is for reporting minor and non-emergency crimes where immediate or high-priority response is not required, such as:
- To report a crime, if the suspect is no longer in the area
- To offer evidence for an investigation
- To give the police information about a threat of crime
- To make an enquiry to the police
- To verify that a police officer is genuine
The system determines the caller's location based on the telephone exchange or cell tower they are connected to, and automatically connects them to the police force covering that area, unless the caller chooses otherwise. In some cases, some people may be given an option of choosing from multiple forces, if they are close to a boundary. If the caller would like to speak to a different police force to the one(s) determined by the automated system, they are prompted to verbally choose, by speaking the name of the force they need, however major towns, cities, and counties will also be accepted, with the caller being redirected to the police force that covers that area. If the system is still unable to determine the correct force, then the caller will be transferred to a national human operator who will determine this instead, and then connect the caller to the appropriate force.
- A crime is in progress
- A crime appears to be imminent
- A suspect is at a scene or nearby
- There is danger to life
A 101 call may be transferred to the 999/112 call handlers if it is deemed to be an emergency.
A textphone service is available on 18001 101 for those who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired. All of these calls are routed to a National 101 operator who will determine the correct police force, and introduce the caller to the police operator.
- 101 is easily mistaken for NHS 111, which offers medical advice.
- 101 calls are chargeable at a flat rate of 15p per call, to the surprise of many people. This incentivises some people to call 999 when they could have called 101, contrary to an aim to encourage people to use 101 not 999 wherever appropriate.
- Mobile phone users on a pay-as-you-go deal with an inclusive call and text allowance but no separate credit, which is most often the case, are unable to make a 101 call. This can lead to them dialing 999 inappropriately or being forced to use a public phone box (which is free of charge) to make a 101 call.
- Some media reports have highlighted cases where the response times to 101 calls has been slow.
The Daily Mail in December 2014 and The Telegraph in October 2015 reported on problems with the 101 service: for example over one million calls were abandoned or dropped in 2013, and some callers were waiting more than an hour to get through. The Daily Mail article reported "the average time taken to answer a call to Sussex Police's 101 line in June  was nearly four minutes... Nearly half of forces failed to meet internal targets of answering calls within 30 seconds, according to the most recent figures".
Police forces that are not under the authority of the Home Office are mostly not covered by the 101 number. The list includes, but is not limited to:
The following police forces serve territories that are outside of the United Kingdom, and therefore are not covered by the 101 number either:
South Yorkshire Partnership
In South Yorkshire, the 101 number can also be used to connect to South Yorkshire Partnership, which is a joint partnership between Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Police. The 101 service provides advice, information and action, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the following issues:
- Vandalism, graffiti and other deliberate damage to property
- Noisy neighbours and noise nuisance
- Intimidation and harassment
- Abandoned vehicles
- Rubbish and litter, including fly tipping
- People being drunk or rowdy in public places
- Drug-related anti-social behaviour
- Problems with street lighting
Cost of calls
Calls to the 101 number from a BT payphone have always been free of charge as BT decided to not amend the mechanism that applies a 60p minimum charge for chargeable calls.
Since the summer of 2018, mobile provider giffgaff has waived the 15p charge. Vodafone has announced they will waive the charge for pay-as-you-go customers from 1 June 2019. Talktalk and several other providers have announced they are reviewing the charge.
On 28 May 2019, the Home Office announced the 15p charge will be scrapped for all callers from April 2020.
Previously the police forces all had individual local phone numbers; the system made all police forces' non-emergency number 101.
A pilot 101 system with joint Police and local authority call centres began in 2006. First introduced in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for £3.3 million, the service was later extended Cardiff, Sheffield, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear and Leicester City and Rutland.
The planned nationwide roll-out of the original service never took place and the trial itself was withdrawn from several areas after the withdrawal of Home Office funding. In 2009, the number was instead adopted as a straightforward non-emergency number by the four police forces in Wales, with the local authority element dropped.
The number was then was rolled out across all English police forces between 2011 and 2012, and extended to Scotland in April 2013. The Police Service of Northern Ireland followed suit by adopting the 101 number on 24 March 2014.
Similar projects such as the Missing People 116000 number; the NSPCC 116111 number; and The Samaritans 116123 number are all part of the European Union's harmonised service of social value commission, who designate simple telephone numbers for helplines of social importance helping citizens in need.
- 999 (emergency telephone number)
- Emergency telephone number
- 3-1-1 – non-emergency number in many communities in the US and Canada
- NHS 111 – non-emergency health advice in England and Scotland
- "101 – The police non-emergency number". Home Office. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- BBC News Online (8 March 2006). "Summer launch for 101 crime line". Retrieved 2008-01-12.
- "More than a million people abandoned their calls to non-emergency 101 police number with some waiting over an hour for answer". Mail Online (Daily Mail). Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- "Don't bother calling 101 non-emergency number because 'life's too short', says top policeman". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- "Contact the Police". Police. 2019-05-01. Archived from the original on 2019-05-18.
- "$Single Non Emergency Number 101.doc.pdf" (PDF). http://democracy.sheffield.gov.uk/. External link in
- Richardson, Tim (8 March 2006). "999 to get non-emergency back-up". The Register. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
- "Single Non-Emergency Number Project (SNEN)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-11.
- BBC News Online (2006-05-14). "Non-emergency phone line launched". Retrieved 2008-01-12.
- "Police expand 101 non-urgent line". BBC News. 15 April 2009.
- "Police Roll Out 101 Number For Non-Emergency Calls". Huffingtonpost.co.uk. 11 January 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-11.
- "101". Police Scotland.
- "New 101 number for non-emergency PSNI calls". BBC News. BBC. 14 March 2014.
- "Ofcom | Ofcom makes two new 116 helpline numbers available". Consumers.ofcom.org.uk. 2010-10-01. Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2012-10-11.