The police won’t always be dispatched if you dial 55 during a 999 call

8 January 2020
What was claimed

If you need the police in a situation where you can’t speak, ring 999 and when they answer press 55. This tells them that you need help and they will dispatch police to you.

Our verdict

If you can’t talk during a 999 call, dialling 55 should route your call to the police. But they won’t necessarily send officers and they can’t always trace calls to an exact address.

An image, making the claim that if you are unable to speak during a 999 call, then dialling 55 can ensure police are sent to help you, has been shared at least 15,000 times on Facebook.

It’s true that dialling 55 during a 999 call in the UK should alert the operator that the caller needs to be put through to the police, as would doing something like tapping the handset to make a noise in response to the handler’s questions.

But it’s not guaranteed that police would be dispatched, as the post claims.

For one, the caller’s location can’t always be tracked. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) told us (when we wrote about this last year) that calls from landlines can be linked to an address, but calls from mobile phones will only show a general location at the time of the call.

The NPCC added that the police don’t always send officers to silent calls “so it is important for callers to try and provide as much information as they can—in any way they can”. Police will use other information, such as previous calls, to inform their decision on whether to send officers.

When BT operators receive silent 999 calls, they are supposed to connect callers to a police call handler if they hear suspicious noises or a disturbance. If they aren’t sure whether an emergency service is needed, the call will be transferred to the “Silent Solution” system. An automated message plays, asking the caller to press 55 to be put through to the police.

Update 9 January 2020

We clarified where this information referred to.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because it’s not true that police will always be dispatched if someone dialled 55 during a 999 call.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.