Persistent and well-behaved identifiers

27 Sep 2018 03:08 PM

Blog posted by: Richard Duffield, Senior Consultant, GeoPlace, 27 September 2018.

Identifiers are having a bit of a “moment”.

For nearly two decades we have helped local government create and maintain the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) and Unique Street Reference Number (USRN), ensuring that they are nationally unique, persistent and otherwise well-behaved. Each local authority in England, Scotland and Wales allocates a 12-digit number known as the UPRN to each new “addressable object” at the earliest possible stage of its lifecycle.

This has never been particularly headline-grabbing work and doesn’t help you make friends at parties, but it has been incredibly effective at improving services and decision making in Great Britain. The UPRN now underpins many important aspects of government including the real-time transfer of incidents between emergency servicesunderstanding citizens,delivering better services. It’s a helpful way to link people to places. The trend is spreading across the private sector too.

So, it is strange, although not surprising, to find that identifiers are becoming a little bit trendy – they even have their own festival (yep, really).

Eddie Copeland, Director of Government Innovation at NESTA recently began a series of “ideas on a page” with an mention of the UPRN.


Back in 2016, Thomson Reuters published a report highlighting the importance of identifiers saying:

“Identifiers are fundamentally important in being able to form connections between data, which puts them at the heart of how we create value from structured data to make it meaningful”.

The report highlights how the potential of identifiers can be unlocked by web technologies and the growing world of Open Data. In parallel we’re finding that the UPRN is key to effective machine learning and this will be the subject of another GeoPlace blog post coming soon.

A recent blog post by open data activist Owen Boswarva provided a handy list of property-related identifiers available in Great Britain. Later in this post I’ll go on to detail how these are linked to the UPRN.

Leigh Dodds from the Open Data Institute followed up Owen’s blog with his own thread ‘Lets talk about identifiers’.

The subject is technical – when required I will delve into the detail and at times I’ll simplify for the sake of readability. If you’re interested in exploring the ideas in further detail, then contact me for a more detailed discussion.

So, first allow me to make an important technical clarification. The identifiers Owen highlighted all relate to property and address in some way – but they do not necessarily identify or locate a property or address.

For example, the Royal Mail identifier identifies a postal delivery point. This may be on the ground floor when your flat is on the 5th floor. Similarly, the MPAN (an asset identifier for your utility meter) for the same flat may be in the basement. The Land Registry Transaction ID identifies the transaction of you buying or selling your house, not the property. So, the identifiers may not have the same meaning or even represent the same location but linking them is incredibly powerful.

Click here for the full blog post