999, 112, 111 or 101: Which Number is Best?

Most people in the UK are aware than in an emergency, you should call 999 to reach the fire, police or ambulance services. Yet, several new numbers have been introduced recently. Do you know which number you should call for the right assistance in an emergency?

999: Emergencies Only

999 has been used in the UK for over 80 years and was the world’s first single emergency number. The number 999 was chosen for technical reasons, but had an incidental benefit – the number 9 could easily be found on a rotary phone, as it was next to the dial stop.

999 is used in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Botswana, Ghana, Hong Kong, Kenya, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Qatar, Ireland, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Eswatini, Trinidad and Tobago, Seychelles, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Through this one number, you can contact:

  • Police
  • Ambulance
  • Fire Service
  • Coastguard
  • Mountain Rescue (you must first ask for Police)
  • Lowland rescue
  • Cave rescue
  • Moorland search and rescue service
  • Quicksand search and rescue service in Morecambe Bay
  • Mine rescue
  • Bomb disposal

112: Emergencies Only

112 was introduced in April 1995 in the UK. It was introduced across Europe in order to give a standard number for travelers to call across the EU.

It connects to the same services as 999 and works in exactly the same way. Neither number has priority over the other, so you may use either number to reach the emergency services.

Always do your own research before traveling.

999 and 112: How to Call in an Emergency

To call 999 and 112, simply enter the number into your mobile telephone or landline. The call is free.The operator will answer and ask ‘Which service do you require”. If you are unsure, the operator can advise.

In 2009, UK mobile phone networks introduced “Emergency Call Roaming”. This means that although a mobile phone might display a ‘no signal’ message, an emergency call will attempt to contact to another network. However, you will be unable to receive a call on that network, even if the inbound call is from emergency services.

However, if your phone does not contain a SIM card, you cannot make emergency calls. A SIM-less phone may display ‘Emergency Calls Only’, but that’s the phone’s software displaying the message. SIM free emergency calls have been blocked due to untraceable hoax calls.

999: How to Text in an Emergency

You can send a text to 999 (but you must pre-register for this service). To pre-register, text the word ‘register’ to 999.

You can only send a text from your own phone network. If you have a weak or intermittent signal on your home network sending a text to 999 could be a life saver.

111: Non-emergency number for the NHS

NHS 111 can help if you have an urgent medical problem that is not an emergency issue and you’re not sure what to do.

You will speak to an advisor, who will ask a series of questions about your condition, or the condition of the person affected.

101: Non-emergency number for the Police only

101 is only available if you are calling from within England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Calls are charged at 15 pence per call.

You can call 101 to report crime that is not an emergency. For example:

  • Your car or property has been stolen
  • Your property has been damaged
  • You suspect drug use or related crime in your neighborhood
  • Share information about crime in your area
  • Speak to the police

You should always call 999 when it is an emergency, such as when a crime is in progress, someone suspected of a crime is nearby, when there is danger to life or when violence is being used or threatened.