What to do if you need to dial 999 during coronavirus lockdown but can't speak

There has been some confusion about what to do if you need to call 999 but can't talk. (Getty Images)
There has been some confusion about what to do if you need to call 999 but can't talk. (Getty Images)

If you need to call 999 but can’t speak, secretly dialling ‘55’ is one of the ways you can urgently get in touch with police during the coronavirus lockdown, but you shouldn’t just hang up.

According to Full Fact, the UK's independent fact checking charity, there has been some confusion over what to do if you need the assistance of the police but can’t actually speak.

There have been claims that calling 999, then pressing ‘55’ when someone answers and hanging up is enough to alert the police they are needed and potentially allow the police to track your location.

But Full Fact have revealed that while typing ‘55’ on a 999 call, from a mobile, when prompted, is a way to alert the automated system that you need police assistance, you should not hang up as soon as you do this.

Read more: Choir members record song from home to raise over £30k for domestic abuse victims

What to do if you need to call 999 but can’t speak

The Independent Office for Police Conduct have compiled a guide to help inform people how the 999 system works and what people should do if they need to contact the police but can’t speak.

All 999 calls are directed to call centres and will be answered by BT operators who will ask which service you need. If you are unable to request a service, but anything suspicious is heard on the line, the operators will connect you to a police call handler.

While it is always best to speak if you can, sometimes it will not be possible to speak, so the operator may ask you to cough or tap the keys on your phone in response to questions.

If no sound is made and the operator can’t decide if the police are needed your call will be transferred to the Silent Solution system.

What is the Silent Solution System?

The Silent Solution System is used to filter out large numbers of accidental or hoax 999 calls and help those who are unable to speak, but who genuinely need police assistance.

When you’ve been put through to the Silent Solution System an automated voice asks the caller to press ‘55’ if they need police assistance.

When transferred to your local police force, the police call handler will attempt to communicate with you by asking simple yes or no questions. If you are not able to speak, listen carefully to the questions and instructions from the call handler so they can assess your call and arrange help if needed.

As explained by Full Fact, pressing 55 does not allow police to track your location, nor should you just hang up.

Commenting on the Silent Solution System IOPC Regional Director Catrin Evans said in a press release: “It is always best to actually speak to a police call handler if you can, even if by whispering, but if you are putting yourself or someone else in danger by making a sound, there is something you can do.

“Make yourself heard by coughing, tapping the handset or once prompted by the automated system, by pressing 55.

Evans believes there is a lack of public awareness of the Silent Solution system and the police are therefore keen to share the information as widely as possible.

“It could potentially save a life,” she adds.

Read more: Domestic violence app sees 30% rise in alerts during coronavirus lockdown

If you can't speak while calling 999 you should press 55, when prompted, but don't hang up. (Getty Images)
If you can't speak while calling 999 you should press 55, when prompted, but don't hang up. (Getty Images)

What happens if I’m calling from a landline?

According to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) Silent Solution is not used on calls from landlines as, “it’s less likely that 999 calls are made by accident from landlines”.

The Independent Office of Police Conduct says that on calls from landlines: “if there is no request for an emergency, the caller does not answer questions, and only background noise can be heard and BT operators cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed then they will transfer the call to the police.”

The guidance also explains that if for any reason you disconnect the call on a landline by hanging up you have 45 seconds to pick it up again and the call will resume. If this happens (you hang up and pick up again within 45 seconds) the BT call handler will also forward the call to the police.

Read more: Coronavirus: Charity says domestic abuse calls are up 25% since lockdown

Domestic Abuse increases during coronavirus lockdown

There have been reports of a rise in domestic abuse cases since the UK was put into lockdown at the end of March.The charity, Refuge, announced a 25% increase in calls to their helpline amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The website has also had a 150% increase in visitors during the seven days following the introduction of stricter social distancing measures.

Campaigners warned of the strain a nationwide lockdown would have on sufferers of domestic abuse ahead of the stricter measures which were imposed on 23 March.

Earlier this month Victoria Derbyshire was praised after she presented the BBC news with the number for the National Domestic Abuse helpline written on her hand.

And just this morning it was revealed London City Voices choir has raised £27,000 in less than three days for a charity helping women suffering from domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.

The choir released a video of Carole King's “You've Got A Friend” to support survivors of domestic abuse.