CALLING 101 will be free from Wednesday.

Ringing the police's non-emergency number used to charge callers a 15p connection fee. The Home Office will now spend £7 million a year to meet the connection costs.

Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon Angus Macpherson said: "Reporting crime, passing on intelligence or ringing for an update should not cost callers 15p, and this is good news for victims and the people of Wiltshire.

“The police are currently working in unchartered territory, having to engage with the public in different ways and it's important to me that the police are as accessible as possible. This announcement is a really positive step forward.

"That said, I would continue to encourage people to only call 101 when absolutely necessary, to report a crime or incident, request an update or make a complaint. The force are currently facing a high level of calls regarding the current government restrictions in place.

“You should always call 999 if a crime is in progress or in an emergency.

“Many crimes can also now be reported on the force’s website and there is also the option to raise concerns that people are not adhering to the restrictions set out by the government online.”

Over the past two years, significant investment has gone into improving the performance of the force's crime and communications centre after concerns about its performance.

The time it takes to answer a 101 call has improved from just over five minutes in 2017 to one minute and 20 seconds at the end of 2019.

Since then, call abandonment rates have dropped from 22.2 per cent in 2017 to 4.3 per cent for 2019.

The vast majority of people will be able to use the service free of charge from today. However, from April 1 to July 1 there remains a chance that users of small operators will be charged for using the 101 service. The Home Office will be urging those providers to refund their customers.