When do Britons think you are supposed to call 999?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
February 12, 2024, 11:41 AM GMT+0

Britons are least clear when it comes to anti-social behaviour and small or suspected fires

Eating too much kebab might not strike you as an emergency, yet one person saw it as a good reason to dial 999 according to recent data released by the Welsh Ambulance Service.

This prompted YouGov to ask how many Britons have ever called the emergency services, and in what circumstances they think it is right to do so?

How many people have ever called 999?

The survey data reveals that more than half of people (54%) say they have ever called 999. The most frequently called service is the ambulance, with 73% of those who have ever placed a 999 call requesting this service. Approaching half (46%) of 999 callers have requested the police, and 14% the fire service.

When should you call 999?

The public are overwhelming aware that you should call 999 when someone is in a life-threatening medical emergency (98%), to report a large fire (98%), when a crime is in progress (97%).

Similarly, almost all Britons (95%) know that 999 is not an appropriate number to call if you are looking for information about public services.

Should you call 999 for antisocial behaviour? Britons are most divided on that question, with 45% saying yes but 42% saying no. Official guidance is likewise split – Greenwich Borough Council’s online guidance says that if it is currently taking place then you should call 999, yet in the same circumstances Hackney Borough Council says witnesses should call 101.

While the public are almost universally aware that you should call 999 in the event of a large fire, a much smaller majority (58%) know that you should also do so in the event of a small fire – as North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service puts it “Do dial 999, and ask for the fire service, no matter how small the fire is because small fires can quickly spread into larger fires.”

Similarly, 51% of Brits believe you should call 999 if you think there might be a fire, but aren’t sure – again, North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue tells people to pick up the phone in such circumstances.

A quarter of Britons (24%) think you should call 999 when you need medical help quickly for a non-life-threatening emergency – in these cases, however, NHS guidance is to visit an urgent treatment centre.

One in eight Britons (13%) believe 999 is the number to call upon discovering a crime that happened some time ago. Police guidance, however, is generally keen to stress that 999 should only be called in the event of crimes that are currently taking place.

See the full results here

Photo: Getty