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Hidden phones: UK Emergency Alerts test and domestic violence concerns

This Sunday 23 April at 3pm, there will be a test of the new UK Emergency Alert System. If you have a compatible mobile phone, you will receive a text message and an alarm will sound for 10 seconds. You will need to swipe away the message or click ‘OK’ on your phone’s home screen before using the phone as normal.

The alert system test has raised considerable concerns amongst charities for those living with domestic abuse and coercive control. As a report for Sky News pointed out, the siren from the test could reveal the existence and location of a second or hidden mobile phone to their abuser.

"Some abusers confiscate or control a primary mode of contact, often forcing people to keep a second phone. These secondary phones can be an important form of communication with family and friends."

The discovery of such as phone could trigger more abuse, according to Lucy Hadley, head of policy at charity Women's Aid.

"A second phone ... may also be their only lifeline in emergencies. The emergency alerts pose a risk, not only because an abuser could discover a survivors’ second phone, but also because they could use this as a reason to escalate abuse.”

 

Why is the alert test happening?

The UK Emergency Alert System is designed to warn people of a life-threatening emergency near them. For example, it might warn of impending flooding during a storm, or wildfires. The test is being made so people know what an alert sounds and looks like, and can therefore respond to it in a real emergency. According to Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden MP

"Getting this system operational means we have a vital tool to keep the public safe in life-threatening emergencies. It could be the sound that saves your life."

 

Who will receive the alert?

Alerts will be sent automatically to all UK mobile phone users on a 4G or 5G phone network and who have:

  • an iPhone running iOS 14.5 or later
  • an Android phone and tablets running Android 11 or later

Other earlier phones may have the feature listed in the device settings under 'emergency alerts'.

 

If you do not want the test alert to sound, you will need to take action now.

 

Government advice on turning off the alerts

The government advice is that:

"Women and girls who are subject to domestic abuse and have concealed phones can opt out of the national test either by turning off Emergency Alerts in their phone settings or by switching their phone off."

We might add as experienced family lawyers that this advice equally applies to the male victims of domestic abuse. An estimated 3 million men in 202 were victims of domestic abuse and violence. For more details see our page on domestic abuse against men.

 

How to turn off the alerts

The simplest method to prevent the test alert coming through is to turn off your phone completely. The alert text and sound are done "live", so the phone should not remind you of the text or sound an alarm once it's switched back on again.

The Government also advise that alerts will not be received if your phone is in "airplane mode". However, just switching your phone to silent or sleep mode will NOT prevent the alert coming through.

You can also turn off the test and all future Emergency Alerts in your phone settings as follows:

- For iPhones and Apple devices

Go to Settings and find ‘emergency alerts’. Turn off ‘Severe alerts’ and ‘Emergency alerts.’

 

- For Android phones and devices

Go to Settings and find ‘emergency alerts’, and turn off ‘Severe alerts’ and ‘Emergency alerts’. On some devices, you have more options under ‘emergency alerts’ so you should turn off ‘Extreme threats’, ‘Severe threats’ and ‘Show amber alerts’.

 

For more information on securing your tech, see the excellent guides from Refuge.

 

Should I turn off emergency alerts for ever?

These alerts are designed to alert you and your family of imminent danger, so by their very nature, you'll never know when they are coming. You will need to weigh up for yourself the positive benefits of early warning against the risk of phone discovery.

 

Help for victims of domestic violence and emotional abuse

Abuse does not discriminate and is never acceptable. Anyone can be the victims of domestic abuse, regardless of age, race, background or marital status.

If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, the time to act is NOW.

  • Call 999 and if possible, get yourself and your children to a place of safety.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 200 0247 (women)
  • Call the ManKind confidential helpline on 01823 334244 (men)
  • Once you’re safe, contact us for professional legal advice on how to proceed.

 

We can and will help victims of domestic abuse

If you are a victim of any form of domestic violence, emotional abuse or coercive control, whether male or female, we can help. Please contact us at LGFL Ltd to arrange an urgent consultation. You can also book your initial 1-hour reduced fee advice session. (For qualifying clients, T&Cs apply).

Remember, if you are in any immediate danger, always call 999 for police assistance.

For more information, see our pages on: