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The rich promise of data linking with UPRNs


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Luke Studden
Image source: GeoPlace

The address identifier provides a crucial feature in bringing datasets together for real social benefits, writes Luke Studden, data integration and development manager of GeoPlace

The public sector should link its datasets containing addresses with Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) – the more datasets that are linked and centralised, the richer the intelligence picture becomes for improving the planning and delivery of critical public services.

This was explored in recent joint webinar – the slides from which are available here – by the Government Analysis Function and GeoPlace, the organisation that manages UPRNs at a national level. UPRNs are unique identifiers for every addressable location in Great Britain. They are a key feature in Ordnance Survey’s AddressBase range of products.

Address data provides the most micro-level geographic granularity possible and can play a crucial role in the public sector’s effort to exploit the full potential of its own departmental data.

Three advantages

At the webinar, GeoPlace explained that there were three key reasons for using address data and its associated UPRNs:

  1. It is freely available to the public sector under the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) through the range of Ordnance Survey AddressBase products.
  2. It provides rich attribution describing detailed characteristics about each property, as well as having unparalleled spatial granularity.
  3. It is the most effective tool available for data linking across the public sector due to the UPRN being a persistent, definitive identifier, creating a mechanism to create exact, unambiguous matches between datasets that utilise it.

In addition, it helps to deal with the complexity of modern buildings, which can have numerous addresses stacked onto one site, but each of which is assigned its own UPRN. This enables individual flats within a block to be identified or similarly a shop within a larger shopping complex or unit within a retail or business park.

UPRNs and their locations are openly available from the Ordnance Survey Data Hub under an Open Government Licence. They are machine readable and remain with the property throughout its entire lifecycle, from its planning application stage, right through to its demolition. UPRNs are robustly managed by GeoPlace and are also mandated for central government use by the Open Standards Board in referencing and sharing information about properties.

These factors combine to make the UPRN highly effective for linking disparate datasets containing it. Acting as a golden thread, the UPRN makes it possible to centralise data relating to a specific property, enabling the creation of an intelligence picture or 'household view' detailing the range of public sector services they receive and interactions they have. This can comprise routine elements such as electoral registration, council tax and refuse collection, and the more discretionary such as social care, benefits and whether people are on the clinically vulnerable list.

Centralising household data in this way can create an empirical evidence base of current and potential future need. It has been used to great effect by many local authorities, to shift from a reactive to proactive approach to service provision, lending itself to identify critical intervention points where support can be offered pre-emptively rather than being triggered.

The approach has been used successfully in a range of contexts, as explained in the webinar. Barnsley Council was able to create a local Covid-19 test and trace system and has developed a vulnerability index, going down to a household level, in which the UPRN is a key feature.

It linked a range of 26 internally and externally provided datasets to develop a vulnerability score for around 112,000 households within its borders. This score allowed the identification of 330 additional households that were not previously classed as vulnerable on any other dataset. This meant that Barnsley was able to deliver enhanced and specific service provision as required.

At this year’s GeoPlace conference, Barnsley will explain how it is adapting its vulnerability index to identifying housing improvement and target support for vulnerable families in fuel poverty.

Emergency response in Wales

The Community Safety Division of the Welsh Government has drawn on the identifier as a single source of truth in matching public data with that from utility companies to identify vulnerable people in need of support during emergencies. This has fed into its planning for flood responses and alerts on other emergencies.

Another example comes from the National Audit Office, which has found the UPRN and its geographic location to be more reliable, accurate and precise than postcode data in its analysis work.

There are now moves to find even more benefits, with Ordnance Survey running a pilot project, 'UPRN for Everywhere', to get as close to complete coverage as possible so that every recognisable location has the identifier, an address of sorts and a geographical extent describing the point location and boundaries of each site.

In addition, the Government Statistical Service is promoting the cause of data linking by building a network of data linking champions across government. They will be responsible for spreading the understanding of what can be done, promoting the use of appropriate methods and software packages, identifying gaps in capability and training, and keeping abreast of new developments.

The network is managed by the Data Quality Hub, spanning the Government Analysis Function (AF) of the Civil Service, which is focused on improving the analytical capability of government.

There is an opportunity to join in shaping the thinking around this through the Analysis in Government Month, organised by the AF and set to take place during the spring. It will involve a programme of activities to reflect the diversity of work across the function, in which the work on data linking with UPRNs can play a valuable part. Subscribe to the AF newsletter or follow on Twitter @Gov_Analysis to keep in touch.

Data and identifier guidance

The Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) has also produced guidance on making better use of data, which includes the use of standard identifiers for properties and streets, notably UPRNs and Unique Street Reference Numbers.

As mentioned above, but worth repeating, the Open Standards Board, via the Government Digital Service (GDS), mandated on 1 July 2020, the UPRN and USRN are the public sector standard for referencing and sharing property and street information. Find out more about the mandate and other guidance on using UPRNs on the GeoPlace website

Supporting local authorities and software suppliers

With particular focus on local government, a significant barrier to adoption of the UPRN has been identified as the ability of software suppliers to correctly load, update, display and export address data with its UPRN.

GeoPlace advises that a way to break down these barriers is for local authorities to take advantage of the procurement processes they have in place. By being highly prescriptive in their invitations to tender, defining exactly how address data and the UPRN should be handled, software suppliers would then be able to confirm (or demonstrate) their ability to meet these requirements, providing assurance that software in question meets their address data needs. I will be providing explicit guidance on this during a talk at the forthcoming GeoPlace conference.

In short, the public sector can do great things through data linking with UPRNs. It has the potential to drastically transform the way in which public services can be delivered, facilitating the creation of insights and intelligence on where and why services should be more focussed.  And it doesn’t stop there, UPRNs have the ability to do much more and are truly a facilitator of transformation. This will also be explored further at the GeoPlace annual conference, which will take place online on 10 and 11 May.

Further details and registration for the conference can be found here. It’s free of charge to attend.

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