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UK’s three digit emergency numbers explained: 999, 105 and 111

Who should you call in a crisis? (Picture: Getty)

Nobody wants to find themselves needing to call for help in an emergency – obviously.

But fires do happen, ambulances are needed at times and, in rare cases, criminals put ordinary citizens in danger.

Sadly, the world isn’t an easygoing place. Sometimes, you’ve no option but to act fast and make an emergency call.

Most of us know that in any kind of life-threatening situation, the number to dial for immediate assistance is 999.

But what about the other three-digit numbers we have in this country, and when should they be used?

Here’s what you should know.

What are the UK’s three-digit emergency numbers?

999: Emergency

We’re taught from a young age to call 999 if there’s a medical emergency, a crime taking place or a fire raging.

Our emergency line is actually the oldest in the world, being created in 1937 and used in the London area following a terrible house fire that killed five women.

When you call, you’ll be put through to an operator and asked if you need police, firefighters or an ambulance.

If for some reason you can’t talk, but are in urgent need of help, dial 55 on a mobile while on with the operator to get their attention without using words. On a landline, try to whisper, cough or tap your keys only if possible. You’ll then be passed on to the police.

101: Police Non-Emergency

Meanwhile, if you need to speak to the police, but there’s no urgent or dangerous situation in play – you can call 101.

This is the non-emergency police line. If you call, you’ll be reporting something that you feel the police should know about, such as a suspicion about crimes taking place.

police vehicles parked outside a station
Call 101 to speak to your local police station in a non-emergency (Picture: Getty)

Often, you will be put through to your local police force to discuss with them.

105: Report Power Outage

Interestingly, there’s a number you can call if your power has gone out to alert UK Power Networks.

Dial 105 (hey, if your phone is still working) at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you’ve got access to the internet, you can also follow a live Power Map for updates.

111: NHS Non-Emergency

Much like the non-emergency police line, if you’ve got a medical issue that isn’t an urgent ambulance job, dial 111 on your mobile or landline.

You’ll be put through to a call centre and your medical (or dental) condition will be assessed over the phone – and you’ll likely receive a call back from a dentist, doctor or nurse, whatever’s most relevant.

If needed, you’ll be recommended to get an emergency GP/dentist appointment or to go straight to A&E.

Back of Ambulance
If you need an ambulance, call 999 (Picture: Getty)

112: Emergency in Europe

Essentially, 112 is the EU’s version of 999 – but since 1995, we’ve been able to use it in the UK too.

It puts you through to the same help centre as 999, so no worries there.

It’s a good one to remember because, if you’re ever on holiday in Spain, Greece or beyond, and you need emergency assistance – this is what you’ll need to call.

Or if you’re originally from Europe and aren’t used to dialling 999, you can rest assured that if you call 112 by mistake, you’ll still get help.

119: Coronavirus Helpline

Interestingly, there’s another medical number it’s worth knowing. 119 is the coronavirus helpline.

A row of British Firefighter jackets neatly hung up for use
Call 112 for police, ambulance or fire brigade in Europe. The number also works in the UK (Picture: Getty)

If you need to speak to Test and Trace about being exposed to the virus, this is the number to call. You can also get help regarding testing (such as where to test) and advice on which circumstances require you to quarantine or self-isolate.

123: Speaking Clock

Did you know we have a ‘Talking Clock’ or ‘Speaking Clock’ number here in the UK?

Yep, since July 1936, all disputes about what time it really is have been settled by a knowing voice over the telephone – because sometimes, a mechanical clock just can’t be trusted.

Dial 123 from a BT landline phone and the Speaking Clock will reveal the exact time, which is updated every 10 seconds. So useful for those who have trouble telling the time, or don’t have access to a clock but do have a landline.

This isn’t a free call, though, costing 50p per minute. So don’t go crazy if it’s not an essential service to you.

According to the BBC, it’s very popular on New Year’s Eve, but also on Remembrance Sunday, as people want to time their period of silence correctly.

A selection of wall clocks showing different times
If you need to hear the time, call 123 from a BT landline (Picture: Getty)

159: Report Scams

A new emergency line has been set up to help those who are preyed on by scammers.

If you ever get a call from someone purporting to be your bank, someone asking for money or for personal details (that could lead to you being scammed) – you’re advised to simply hang up the phone.

To report the call, then dial 159. You’ll be put through to an operator who can help you contact your actual bank safely.

Currently, around 70% of UK current account users can use this number. If you have a Santander, Starling Bank, NatWest, Barclays and Lloyds account, it will be able to help.

Most UK phone networks, including landlines, should be able to use it. Right now, though, the number is just a pilot scheme.

You can also report cyber crime, frauds and scams to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

Closer up of woman using smart phone
Who to call in an emergency? Now you know (Picture: Getty)

P.S. If you need to remind a loved one of these numbers – or stick it up on a noticeboard for them – there’s a PDF explaining them in bold lettering you can print out here.

Is there an 888 emergency number?

No, there isn’t currently an 888 number – though you may have heard things about it.

There is a proposal out for one to be created, maybe by Christmas, as a safety helpline for women.

Ideally, the number would be a ‘walk me home’ service – which women could use if out on the streets late at night, or if they’re stuck in a threatening situation.

There’s also been talk of an ‘888’ app, using GPS to alert people if someone has not reached a destination as planned.

However, you can’t currently call this number or find this app. Right now, it’s just an idea.

In the meantime, if you are in danger you should call 999 and ask for the police.

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