A telephone lifeline

With access to mobile and internet telephony being so widespread why do we still need phone boxes on our streets? It’s a legitimate question and one which gave rise to a movement to remove thousands of red phone boxes from everyday use. In the process, whilst some boxes disappeared altogether others became adopted by their local communities; becoming libraries, homes for defibrillators, or mini food banks.

However, whilst some phone boxes were effectively dormant, others are still providing a lifeline for communities; particularly those in areas with poor mobile coverage. In the year to May 2020, Ofcom say that 150,000 phone box calls were made to the emergency services, with a further 25,000 calls to Childline and 20,000 to the Samaritans.

Calls such as these could have life changing consequences. Accordingly, Ofcom are looking to strengthen the rules which would prevent phone boxes being withdrawn from some communities. These new rules will mean that a phone box cannot be decommissioned if any one of four criteria applies. These are:

  • The location of the box not being covered by all four mobile networks;
  • The box being located at an accident or suicide hotspot;
  • More than 52 calls having been made from the box over the past 12 months;
  • Exceptional circumstances, such as poor mobile signal or calls being made to helplines from the phone, mean there is a need to retain a public telephone box.

Ofcom estimate that the new rules will apply to some 5,000 phone boxes out of the 21,000 still in use. This number may be augmented by a requirement for BT or KCOM to consult with local communities before removing boxes from service. More importantly, Ofcom will also require batteries to be installed in some key boxes so that phones can still be used during a power cut.

Commenting on the initiative, Ofcom’s Director of Connectivity, Selina Chadha, said: “Some of the call boxes we plan to protect are used to make relatively low numbers of calls. But if one of those calls is from a distressed child, an accident victim or someone contemplating suicide, that public phone line can be a lifeline at a time of great need.”

Lifelines such as these could make a measurable difference to the safety and security of communities. But the Ofcom research also points to the way in which phone boxes are still being used by those who are reaching out for help. It’s an important reminder for charities and other bodies of the benefit of making contact pathways as easy and straightforward as possible.

Even something as simple as using an 0300 charity telephone number could help to encourage people to call.  0300 numbers are reserved for charities and other non-profit organisations. They are charged at a local rate from mobiles and landlines and can be free as part of an inclusive minutes package. Add on a service such as group divert and charities can help to ensure that calls are answered as swiftly as possible, even if their people are working remotely.

In recognition of the valuable work which charities provide to those in need, Callagenix can offer a substantial discount off regular service costs alongside reduced call charge costs.

Written by Alison