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What the public and property sectors can gain from UPRNs

29/09/21

Industry Voice

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Wider use of Unique Property Reference Numbers in the private sector can make conveyancing easier and provide benefits for public authorities, writes Gayle Gander, Head of Marketing, GeoPlace

It’s in the public sector’s interest that the property sector functions efficiently, with a reliable collection of datasets on properties that can be easily matched and interrogated as part of its regulatory function.

The Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) should be a key element in these datasets, making it possible to pinpoint individual addresses and bring together the information relevant to each one. This provides a reason to campaign for the wider recognition and use of the identifier throughout the property sector.

UPRNs, allocated by local authorities and nationally managed by GeoPlace, provide a unique identifier for each addressable location in the country. While the public sector has been mandated to use them in systems to identify geographic locations, there is still work to be done on encouraging property companies, solicitors, builders and those providing relevant legal and financial services to include them in their own databases.

Housing icons over laptop

Housing Minister Christopher Pincher MP recently declared support for UPRNs at the GeoPlace annual conference, saying that widespread adoption could remove many barriers to progress in the housing sector as they make processes simpler and more agile. He emphasised that they could support the digital sharing of important information such as plot size, boundaries and the number of previous owners.

There is a growing realisation in the property sector that they can make the transaction process more efficient and transparent, providing for a more fluid property market and – as stated by the Conveyancing Information Executive (CIE) in its white paper on UPRNs – increasing the number of transactions. Beyond helping companies in the sector this can provide benefits to public authorities with a stake in how it functions.

Among them is the ability to run searches, identify owners or residents and any legal terms on a property instantly rather than the days it takes when the databases do not have a common identifier. In a recently published white paper, The UPRN: What’s in a number?, the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) has said the full spectrum of stakeholders – including mortgage valuers and lenders, the legal profession, property agents, home buyers, renters and building owners – stand to gain.

Pinpointing individual addresses via the UPRN presents the opportunity to connect all the datasets relating to a particular dwelling to speed up and streamline the whole property lifecycle. Universal adoption of the UPRN has clear advantages of clarity and efficiency that could have a positive impact on building safety.

Public safety

UPRNs can contribute to authorities’ efforts to support public safety through ensuring compliance with regulations on building and fire safety. One of the outcomes of the Grenfell tower tragedy in 2017 is a move to develop building safety files by the Health and Safety Executive. They would include data such as original design specifications and cladding certificates taken from a range of datasets, which can be easier to identify and relate to other datasets if they all include the UPRN for a property.

Other purposes for which it could have value are connected with planning issues. The CIE has pointed to the UPRN’s potential in identifying the risk to properties, and possibly the wider environment, from floods, ground stability, proximity to landfill sites, contaminated land and energy and infrastructure installations.

They can also support the property sector by ensuring companies are aware of the UPRN and able to draw on data from sources such as brownfield registers and flood risk datasets to examine the prospects and risk in any redevelopments, sales or purchases. This can play an important role in supporting local economies and the appropriate use of land.

Local authorities could also find it useful in keeping track of rogue private landlords, with the ability to match their records to others that could identify those that cut corners on building standards or subject tenants to health risks. As the Lettings Industry Council has pointed out, there is a possibility for working on the concept of cascading risk, in which if they spot a landlord not registered for tax there is a greater likelihood that they are not carrying out essential repairs and safety checks.

They can check on whether a landlord has an HMO (housing for multiple occupation) licence, and cross-check details to identify signs of possible fraud around the use of a property.

Commercial potential

There is also a potential for an increase in property sales supported by UPRNs to provide more money from stamp duty land tax.

They could also be used in the compilation of property logbooks as a source of reference in conveyancing, rentals, retrofitting and other processes. This would add a further layer to the information available to authorities in meeting their responsibilities.

All of this demonstrates that UPRNs can feed into a more positive relationship between the public and property sectors, helping to create more stable and healthy environments for their communities.

Fortunately, the cause has been taken up by influential bodies in the property sector. The Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Lettings Industry Council, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the CIE are now advocating the wider use of UPRNs.

This comes from a widening recognition that the industry itself can benefit from the numbers supporting more efficient processes in the exchange and investigation of properties; and that responsible companies in the field should make it easier for public authorities to manage their regulatory responsibilities as smoothly as possible.

Representatives of some of the bodies mentioned above, along with Lawrence Hopper, deputy director for digital policy at MHCLG, have taken part in a recent GeoPlace webinar focused on the importance of UPRNs to the property sector. It provides a perspective from the industry on their significance and how they can contribute to a more efficient and fruitful relationship between property specialists and the public sector.

You can watch the full webinar here and read a review of the event here. It’s well worth the time of anyone working on location data or who recognises its potential to transform the property industry.

Image from iStock, anyberkut

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