ALMOST 900,000 calls to police have gone unanswered in the last five years.

Between 2013/14 and 2017/18, 873,293 calls to the non-emergency 101 number were not picked up.

And the average time for a call to be answered over the same five-year period was 71.5 seconds.

But police bosses say more call handlers had been taken on to meet demand, and it can now be easier to report crimes online.

Last year, 331,254 calls went unanswered - more than double the 164,558 unanswered calls in 2016/17.

In 2015/16, there were 65,269 unanswered calls compared to 164,997 in 2014/15 and 147,215 in 2013/14.

The figures, obtained through a Freedom Of Information Act request, also show the average number of 101 calls per day over the five years from 2013/14 to 2017/18 was 2,365.

The average number of calls to 101 per year over the last five years was 863,798.

The highest number was 1,015,942 in 2013/14 and the lowest 773,638 in 2015/16.

People are advised to call 101 or use online facilities to report crimes, pass on concerns about their area or simply to make an enquiry.

Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner, said the amount and complexity of calls coming through 101 highlighted the pressures the service is facing.

“Cuts across the public sector mean that more people are reaching crisis point, meaning that the police are increasingly used as the emergency service of first resort.

“Lancashire Police are having to do more with less at a time of growing demand, with recorded crime increasing across the country whilst we have lost around 800 officers and 350 support staff since 2010 after nine years of austerity in policing.

“I continue to raise this with the chief constable and am regularly updated on this issue which I know is a concern for many people, and I have invested into the control room to help deal with this increasing pressure, which has seen around £1.2m of investment and 50 new staff in post, whilst the way that the control room operates is also changing to meet the demand that it faces.

“There have also been improvements to online reporting, aimed at making it easier to report crimes to officers who work round the clock to keep people safe.”

A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “All 101 calls for Lancashire are dealt with by our force control room based at Headquarters near Preston.

“Our control room is staffed by officers and staff working shifts that are designed so we have more people available to answer calls at peak times.

“The unpredictable nature of the work of the emergency services does mean that an incident such as a serious road collision can result in a sudden and dramatic spike in emergency calls to us.

“The same group of operators deal with both 999 and 101 calls, so at times like this there will be a knock on effect that means it takes us longer to answer the non-emergency lines."

“Like many services 101 is busier at some times of the week than others.

“Peak times include evenings and weekends when it will take longer to answer calls.

“If a call is not urgent and it is taking us a little while to answer then it may be worth using one of the other methods to report it to us, or to call back at a less busy time.

“Do not call 999 for calls which are not an emergency. It will tie up an operator and delay a police response to someone who may actually require the police, but is unable to get through.

“In 2017 the Police Crime Commissioner for Lancashire approved an investment in additional Police Control Room Operators (PCROs) taking the number of PCROs in the force control room from 295 to 345.

“The increase in staffing was incrementally phased in during 2018, with the new increased staffing establishment reached in December.”