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Mandating the ‘golden thread’ of location data


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Image source: The Power of Place logo

The Government has said central government and the NHS should make full use of UPRNs and USRNs, and now organisations should begin to exploit their potential, writes Nick Chapallaz, managing director of GeoPlace.

We are entering a new era in the use of location data, in which the mandated use of core identifiers promises significant benefits for the public sector.

It comes from the UK Government’s recent announcement that its Open Standards Board has mandated the use of Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) and Unique Street Reference Numbers (USRNs) by central government and the NHS for referencing and sharing information about properties and streets. This means that all new public sector systems and projects that include address and/or street data should include the identifiers.

In addition, both of them – created by local authorities and managed at a national level by GeoPlace – have been made available as open data under the Open Government Licence.

The mandation reflects the Government’s recognition that UPRNs and USRNs can provide lynchpins for the public sector’s use of location data. When they are attached to data from different sources they ensure that each organisation can provide the same identifier to any information on an addressable location or street, providing consistency and confidence in how they are labelled. It removes any ambiguity in identifying a street or address, and the duplication of effort in attaching identifiers.

In turn, this makes it easier to match and analyse disparate datasets, helping organisations to unify data and spot relationships and patterns, and gain insights for planning their operations and making policy. This can help to create internal efficiencies, reduce costs and improve services for citizens.

UPRNs are also great assets in verifying identity, which can mitigate against fraud for central and local government, and protecting privacy, an important element of social care.

Potential for insights

It is easy to affix UPRNs and USRNs to databases, spreadsheets, XML and GML schema and linked data, making them the ‘golden thread’ for data linking, sharing and analysis. They open up a great potential for extracting insights to make public services more efficient and effective, from the management of public infrastructure to the delivery of social policy to improving collaboration between organisations.

They have proven their value in responses to the coronavirus. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has used the UPRN in the food delivery programme for shielded people and the supermarket referral scheme for other vulnerable people, including it in the address fields that are shared with the participating councils and supermarkets. This enables them to ensure the deliveries are going to the right people.

In another example the Welsh Government asked GeoPlace to add the UPRN to its vulnerable people data, so the country’s local authorities could validate the address data they hold. And English councils such as Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Hackney have used the identifier with their own datasets to identify people in need of support.

There have been plenty of other uses cases in government. The Department for Transport is harnessing USRNs in the Street Manager digital service for managing streetworks, providing highways authorities, utility companies and others with a single view of ongoing works and plans for a street.

In local government, Cheshire West and Cheshire Council has used UPRNs to spot anomalies in the details of properties when people have registered to vote; and Colchester Borough council has adopted the identifier in planning its bin collection routes. These all demonstrate the importance of location data in services and identifiers in making the most of that data.

Increasing visibility

The visibility of UPRNs and USRNs in the private sector and among the public is also set to increase with a new service from GeoPlace., set to launch on 1 July, will provide a central point for finding UPRNs and locations for every address in Great Britain.

It joins, an easy route for queries on USRNs, street names and locations In England and Wales. Both of the services are for personal, non-commercial use and limited to 30 searches per day; but they will increase awareness of the identifiers to the point that people expect them to be used, and will contribute to highlighting their value.

Along with the new mandate this will increase their visibility as an asset for the public sector and reinforce their importance as that golden thread. It will prompt organisations to think about how they should put the requirement into practice, and encourage them to explore the potential. Some will have a strong grasp of how to use them while others will need support, which is where GeoPlace can play an important role.

It provides guidance and support for data custodians and has a team of experts handling both identifiers on a daily basis, with the capacity to help organisations in matching, cleaning and analysing location data. In addition, it runs training sessions and offers consultancy services on embedding and extracting the maximum value from UPRNs and USRNs; and it showcases innovation, demonstrating how to find benefits in new areas.

The availability of GeoPlace services is a major resource for harnessing the potential of UPRNs and USRNs, and it is ready to assist public sector bodies in making both a crucial element of their data assets. Public sector organisations need to begin making more of the assets from now.

To find out more about UPRNs and USRNs and how to access them, see together with our video at



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