A PROPOSAL to charge people for making 999 calls has been described as not acceptable by Borders political representatives.
The suggestion was made by Tayside Police Federation secretary David Hamilton, who queried whether charging emergency calls would stop the problem of hoax callers.
But John Lamont MSP said such a move would instead put members of the public at risk.
The Ettrick, Berwickshire and Roxburghshire MSP said: “The 999 service provided in this country is one of the most important when it comes to saving lives and reporting crimes quickly and promptly. It is used by thousands of people each and every year and it is a comfort to know that it is always there, and free of charge to call.
“It is a deep shame that some people abuse this service, making immature and life-threatening prank calls that waste a huge amount of time for our police, fire and ambulance services. While hoax calls are a problem that needs to be dealt with, charging a premium rate to call 999 is not the answer.
“Those who are in danger should not have to needlessly worry about whether they have enough credit before they make the call, or be unable to make the call due to a lack of funds on their mobile. When we are also encouraging residents to report crimes that they see, we cannot charge them for doing something that benefits their local community.”
Mr Hamilton told reporters that the problem of prank calls had got worse when he used to work in a police control room.
He added: “If we were to charge premium rates’ people would be less likely to use 999 and then you would get people who only need it for real emergencies.
“People might say you can’t charge this as it’s a public service but control staff are getting tied up.
“You could charge 50p or 30p from mobile phones but I would leave phone box calls free.”
However, Councillor Catriona Bhatia, executive member for the health service at Scottish Borders Council, replied: “Although hoax calls are an on-going problem for all of the emergency services, the idea that someone calling to alert those services to a life-threatening incident should have to pay is not acceptable.”
Mr Lamont added: “While action undoubtedly needs to be taken to stop hoax callers, this is not the right course of action. More needs to be done to teach people about the harm caused by prank calls, and that it is a totally unacceptable action to take. Maybe then we can start to see the percentage of prank calls decline.”