Adopting the UPRN
By Matthew Ricketts – OS Senior Technical Relationship Consultant
The power of addressing
Address data links everything together. Or, to put it another way, “everything happens somewhere". Whatever the industry, whatever the sector, whatever the organisation, it is at some point going to rely on detailed geospatial (or geographical) information.
Some real-life, high stake examples include monitoring and managing the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. Geospatial information is being used in planning electric vehicle infrastructure. And in retail and utilities, consider just how many addresses and locations are used during the manufacturing-transport-distribution-retail process.
A more discrete level of geography
Postcodes are widely relied on; the familiar six, or seven, digit alphanumeric code has been in place for over 60 years, and though proven effective, it still isn’t the most discrete level of geography. Postcodes can be inconsistently sized, geographically speaking, and they can change, or be terminated. It is a strong system, but there remains room for a new level of information.
For example, a postcode alone isn’t enough to identify individual units in residential blocks and similar developments. A postcode like XY1 2ZA may well locate a block of flats, but what if you required information about flat number three within that block?
If unverified, address records can also vary in quality and accuracy, due to inconsistencies between data systems, and often it can come down to simple human error.
Enter the UPRN. A unique number that properties and some non-addressable objects (post boxes and electricity substations) can have in common.
What is a UPRN?
UPRN, ‘Unique Property Reference Number,’ can be used like a National Insurance number, or car registration plate. A UPRN can be up to 12 digits in length and serves as a unique identifier for an addressable location – a building, a bus stop, a post box, and so on.
The UPRN numeric identifier applies a ‘common standard’ for addressable buildings and objects, which then makes it possible to collate, share, and connect data from various sources. The unique identifier helps reduce ambiguity in a location being considered. Essentially, the UPRN ensures everyone refers to the correct location. It enables a greater accuracy of detail between separate organisations, and so, the unification of data.
Individual datasets may fail to recognise an address, especially if organisations perform data entry by different methods; or a query may relate an object that has no literal address.
The UPRN can be used as a consistent, unique reference point. Organisations can link records, exchange them, and keep their data consistent within their internal tools and processes.
For example, in the housing and proptech sectors, information on housing and properties is decentralised and difficult to access, especially from an overall ‘lifecycle’ point of view. Much of the existing property data is unstructured and made up of multiple formats, including hard copies which have yet to be digitised.
Connecting multiple datasets, not just within the proptech sector but many others, requires the application of a single, reliable identifier.
Application of the UPRN
The UPRN creates linkage between data sets. For example, the NHS has patient records linked to UPRNs. The emergency services can use UPRNs to capture locations they want to home visit; and have already used them in measuring distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine. As is often the case, higher quality data allows more quality analysis, and better understanding of key demographics. The use of UPRNs can better service citizens.
The UPRN is a valuable asset for locating places and people, while remaining a safe identifier that anchors data together. Land registry, gas certificates, broadband coverage, NHS records – everything that could be related to one property, unified.
They’re all the keys, and the UPRN is the keychain linking them all together.
Read how PropTech innovators SearchLand are using UPRNS to link data in smarter ways. In this blog see how UPRNs are helping SearchLand to identify where there are many buildings to one landowner. The UPRN is enabling them to link data to the appropriate building and keep datasets separate.
Breaking the myths around UPRNs
Addresses do work and have certainly had years of success, but there still remains that possibility of an even more accurate system. Addresses can be free-text, unverified information, or part of an authoritative register like AddressBase. UPRNs can improve the accessibility and interoperability of existing, separate, data sets.
Once the UPRN is allocated to a property, that numeric code is established and cannot be subject to variations. Organisation can use UPRNs to improve the quality of their address data – both retrospectively for the data already collected, and prospectively, for any new address data acquired.
Products such as the OS Places API, and other organisations as part of the OS Partners network, offer an address look-up service that can search and find, match, and cleanse existing location data, based on AddressBase Premium.
For example, records may show an address data point as simply ‘Ordnance Survey, SO16 0AS,’ without the full address. Manually address matching to existing records in order to correct it can be time-consuming and may still not produce a completely accurate result. Whereas address matching to the UPRN can provide the full, detailed address you require; and use of an API can shorten the process.
Adopting that process for future queries means that for each new address acquired, there is reassurance that you are discussing the correct property and working with the most accurate address data available. If you are consuming addresses or capturing this information from customers, capture and verification APIs can ensure data entry is robust and is aligning incoming address data to authoritative standards from the outset.
Addresses do work – UPRNs can work even better.
“UPRNs are personal information.”
A lot of information can be attached to a UPRN – in the same way that a lot of information can be attached to an address. It is established practice and safe for governmental authorities and organisations to handle personal information, provided compliance rules and regulations are followed.
In addition, a UPRN can be used to handle geographic data, without needing to know personal data – it can still identity a property, even if the property itself isn’t occupied. UPRNs can therefore make it possible to share less data, but more easily.
“I don’t know what my UPRN is.”
How to find your UPRN:
GeoPlace has created a website FindMyAddress that can find the UPRN for any searchable address. This function uses the OS AddressBase Premium dataset to draw on the most definitive set of addresses available.
FindMyAddress allows 30 free searches per day for non-commercial purposes.
Adopting the UPRN
There are already products in place to help organisations adopt and benefit from UPRNs. The Ordnance Survey Places API can help update existing address records through the 'Capture and Verification' feature, as used by NHS Digital in distribution of Covid-19 home testing kits