The future of a hotline set up by the Home Office as an alternative to the 999 number has been put in doubt.

Ministers launched five pilot schemes of a special phone number for non-emergency crimes and anti-social behaviour last year, after pledging the move in their general election manifesto.

But police minister Tony McNulty told the Police Superintendents Association conference in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, he was unable to say whether funds would be available for the project at the end of the Treasury’s current spending review - although he denied it was under threat at this stage.

One chief constable described the single non-emergency number, or SNEN, as having "bitten the dust" because of funding pressures.

An initial wave of five trials - using the number 101 as an alternative to 999 - began last year and the Home Office had promised to roll out the service to the rest of England and Wales by next year.

Asked at the conference whether the scheme still had the Home Office’s support, Mr McNulty said: "We are trying to get to the stage where we can fully evaluate the effectiveness of the first wave."

Later he said funding could not be decided ahead of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, adding: "It’s not under threat in any sense until this has been confirmed."

Gloucestershire chief constable Dr Tim Brain told the conference: "The single non-emergency number has bitten the dust."

Under the 101 scheme, local authorities and police forces work together to handle calls and resolve problems.

It was designed to deal mainly with vandalism, noisy neighbours, intimidation and harassment, abandoned vehicles, rubbish and litter, public drunkenness and drug-related anti-social behaviour.

A fixed rate charge of 10p a minute was charged in the 24-hour-a-day pilot schemes in a bid to avoid the system being misused.