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How UPRNs can support the coronavirus response


Unique Property Reference Numbers can provide key connections between datasets to target support for vulnerable people, writes Gayle Gander, head of marketing at GeoPlace

These are highly challenging times. The coronavirus pandemic has imposed a massive demand on the public sector to provide support for vulnerable people and organisations are aiming to quickly understand which households need help and pinpoint their location.

That requires high quality, granular data, coming from different sources but which can be easily connected, to help identify where the most vulnerable live; but it also needs to respect information governance regulations by not sharing their personal details. Address is the key factor in making this possible.

Relying on data from the national census is likely to produce inconsistent results as it is now nine years since the last exercise was carried out, and data about individual households is not available. The most detailed level of data – known as Output Area – typically groups together 40 households, making it difficult to identify needs and target support effectively.

But the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) – created by local authorities in their Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG) and managed by GeoPlace nationally – provides a major asset for organisations in their responses to the pandemic. It is available through the AddressBase range of products provided by Ordnance Survey.

The UPRN is a 12-digit code specific to an address that makes it possible to identify a property in datasets from a range of sources and helps to identify the connections in the data. Crucially, it does not change once allocated, and guarantees the location of a property without the need to use any personal data.

This means it can provide reliable links between a wide range of datasets, making it possible to build a household picture of vulnerabilities without straying onto the sensitive ground of naming the individuals.

Supporting people through the crisis

Public authorities are already using UPRNs to support vulnerable people through the crisis.

The Welsh Government has run one of the largest and quickest operations in using the identifier to alert local authorities in advance of the vulnerable people receiving coronavirus advice from the UK Government and who were likely to need support. The data was sourced from NHS Wales, brought together through Newport City Council’s Intelligence Hub then passed to GeoPlace for the inclusion of the UPRN, along with geographic coordinates and a label for the relevant local authority. This has made it possible for the councils to identify the homes of vulnerable people for support while they are in isolation.

Shaun Powell, head of the Intelligence Hub at Newport City Council, says: “The aim was to get the data to the local authorities before the letter was received by the citizens, as this way it gave the local authorities the best chance of coordinating resources and ensuring they were as prepared as possible. As soon as it was agreed this would be done using the UPRN and the key identifier, the decision to seek support from GeoPlace was an easy one.” 

Leeds City Council has responded to the pandemic by checking the latest data from Public Health England (PHE) and the Care Quality Commission to ensure it has accurate UPRNs and coordinates mapped for use in its geographical information system to support its social care teams. It has also expected a list of vulnerable people from PHE to which it can match to UPRNs to establish where they live and check if they are receiving care packages.

Hackney Council has drawn on data related to adult social care, council tax, housing benefit, assistance with bulky waste collections and children’s and families' services to compile a list of 12,500 vulnerable households in the borough. It used the UPRN to link together information across various systems, providing a holistic view at the household level. This has highlighted the need for all organisations to include the UPRN in any data that is shared with others.

Sheffield City Council has been looking to identify vulnerable people through its council tax dataset – to which UPRNs were recently attached as part of a project with its elections team – and its system for social care which took on the identifiers when it came into use in 2018. Using the UPRN has meant that the different datasets could be pulled together to provide support to people.

Nottingham City Council's GIS team has used its LLPG to support the provision of a list of key facilities and their addresses in which to display its 'Golden Number' posters. These provide an emergency contact number for people who are self-isolating and need support. Citizens can call the council if they do not have trusted friends or neighbours to help with picking up facilities and delivering their medicine, food and household supplies.

The list of the facilities includes supermarkets and petrol stations, identified through the LLPG. It will be used by volunteers to visit the facilities and ensure a poster is displayed, making the information as accessible as possible.


There have also been precedents prior to the crisis. Wales’ Joint Emergency Services Group (JESG) has worked with local authorities, GeoPlace and Ordnance Survey on a pilot scheme named JIGSO to collate information about individuals’ vulnerability on an address-by-address basis. It involved attaching UPRNs initially between adult social services and local emergency service, then to data from sources such as Welsh Water and Western Power Distribution.

Tony Bracey, head of programmes for the Welsh Government, says this has made it easier for JESG to use the right information at the right time, and to match it with data on dangers such as flooding, and to set up the Resilience Direct platform, an online private network of civil protection practitioners to work together.

Kent County Council has created the Kent Integrated Dataset, which receives information from health and care providers as basis for population health analytics. This enables it to identify vulnerable families, assess the effects of different types of household on the demand for healthcare, and make forecasts for long term residential care.

It uses UPRNs as the link between the datasets at household level, with NHS numbers providing the links at a personal level while preserving the anonymity of individuals.

Need for wider application

These examples show the potential for linking datasets for insights in protecting the vulnerable; but there is a mixed picture of the application of UPRNs at the moment. Representatives of some councils have expressed frustrations over them not being applied to potentially important datasets, and a misunderstanding among some data owners that the identifiers should not be shared. The latter is a point that has to addressed within organisations and around the public sector to make clear they can be shared for appropriate uses.

It should be emphasised that UPRNs provide a crucial feature for linking datasets, and if applied more widely and shared appropriately it will enable public service organisations to target their efforts to protect people much more effectively.

Even after this crisis subsides there will be a need for a strong focus on supporting vulnerable individuals, whether it is in response to a public emergency or events in their own lives. The wider the use of the UPRN, the more that can be done to ensure the efforts are successful.

If you need to strengthen the accuracy of your address data, or help in connecting to UPRNs, contact GeoPlace at [email protected]


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