The beleaguered system for making non-emergency calls to police has been labelled an “absolute waste of time” by Mole Valley residents and traders.
The 101 number was introduced by police forces across the country in 2012 as a way of reducing pressure on the 999 service for emergency calls.
But a number of people have complained about the state of the service with many saying they have been forced to wait for up to 45 minutes to speak to an operator. Others have admitted to simply giving up and not reporting issues.
Other occurrences revealed in data obtained from Surrey Police in a request under the Freedom of Information Act include callers being put on hold for up to 30 minutes after making their initial inquiry.
Concerns have been raised particularly by Ashtead residents in recent weeks about problems reporting a spate of car break-ins.
Village resident Claire Ansett said: “When they got through they were told 101 was too busy and to log the incidents via the Surrey Police website.
“No one knew you could report crime on there so it did get people’s backs up when they were all calling and just hearing the same message.
“I was told that was due to lack of staff but that it shouldn’t have happened, and that crime reported on the website will be responded to within an hour.”
Shopkeeper Sarah Slade of community group Friends of Dorking branded the service “an absolute waste of time”.
She said: “The thing I’m worried about is people will get fed up with waiting for 101 and then dial 999 instead.
“The whole point of 101 is to take away the amount of people who use 999 when it’s not an emergency. I’ve got fed up with waiting before.”
Mole Valley Inspector Richard Hamlin said he had been made aware of complaints across the district, particularly in Ashtead, and said he had apologised to callers who had experienced problems.
He said: “At the moment, what we’re finding is people will find the initial call is answered quickly but then they’re on hold in a queue dealing with the number of options and extensions. So if you want to report something, you’re in a queue which can last quite some time.
“I’ve heard those stories and people have said to me it’s not a great service. I have personally apologised to people for that.
“People ask ‘what’s the point of calling?’ so I would say if you have problems please to flag them up to us.”
He added: “The staff at the call centre do a great job in trying circumstances and can only deal with each crime at a time – but we are aware there have been some frustrations over how easy it is to contact us and we’re taking steps to rectify that.”
Some senior officers in the force have also said cuts to services, which have already reached £20 million with another £20 million expected in coming years, are having an effect on the 101 service, with fewer staff dealing with more calls.