Leading residential property bodies have today(12th January 2021) published an open letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and copied to Thalia Baldwin, Director of the Geospatial Commission highlighting the potential benefits from a widely adopted Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) and steps that Government needs to take to make this happen. The signatories of the letter, which includes leading bodies from across the residential property sector, believe that the wide market adoption of the UPRN will deliver substantial benefits to UK society, the residential property sector and to Government.
Andrew Bulmer, CEO of IRPM comments: “The UPRN is like attaching a number plate to a car, instead we attach a unique number (up to 12-digits) to all things related to properties (fittings, fixtures, paperwork, surveys etc), so that each property can be uniquely identified with unparalleled accuracy.
If all the conditions outlined in the letter were to be met, we could proactively work towards the wholesale adoption of the UPRN. Implemented effectively, this could help position the UK as the world’s leading property market”.
Dan Hughes, Founder of Alpha Property Insight and the Real Estate Data Foundation noted that; “The property sector is at the heart of the economy, people’s wellbeing and our impact on the environment. There are huge opportunities for technology to help with improving every aspect of this, but to do so requires the effective use of data. The wide adoption of the UPRN would be a big step towards providing the foundations to enable this.”
Theresa Wallace, Founder of The Lettings Industry Council (TLIC), notes that “widespread adoption of UPRN’s could revolutionise the property market, this is a really exciting initiative which has industry support and we now need the Government to add theirs.”
The letter details the benefits of widespread market adoption of the UPRN to society, the economy and property sector. These include:
However, the letter also calls for steps by Government and for certain conditions to be met to really enable these benefits:
Following the profound findings in the RoPA report, that outlines the phenomenal need for compliance within the property agents’ sector, Lord Best states that “the UPRN is an excellent concept and could be a game-changer.”
The impact of the universal adoption of the UPRN can be immense, The National Trading Standards Estate and Letting Agents Team (NTSELAT) explain that, “the widespread use of a Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) has the potential to deliver many benefits across the residential property market. Importantly, a UPRN can offer tenants a greater level of protection against rogue landlords and help to reduce consumer fraud when buying or renting a home. The NTS Estate and Letting Agency Team supports the work of The Letting Industry Council in driving the adoption of the URPN across the property sector”.
Connecting data and using identifiers has been talked about in parts of property for a long time, but last summer the Government made the UPRN more open. Many organisations recognise the benefits of a widely used single identifier, but the biggest benefit is when it is used across the whole market by everyone.
Property is very fragmented and so the RED Foundation, working with IRPM and TLIC, set about leading an initiative to build a consensus in the market to recognise the steps taken by Government with the UPRN, encourage its adoption to achieve a wide range of benefits, but also to call on Government to take action to help the sector achieve this adoption.
The breadth of organisations and companies that have signed up to this is unprecedented and it is encouraging to see how the sector has come together around this topic.
The most common way we identify a building is by its address, but this is often not captured consistently over time, for example: Address format - We record addresses in different ways; do you call it St. James’ Street, St James Street, St James’s Street, St James St.? Crossroads - Where a building is on a corner of two streets whilst it may only have one official address, people might address it to both streets in everyday life. All of this causes confusion, in particular for computers to match and compare data sets. Capturing addresses in an inconsistent format has often caused problems, but this is going to become an ever-greater challenge as we become more reliant on technology. The UPRN provides a widely used single reference number meaning that we are always talking about the same building and different bits of information can more easily be combined. This lack of confusion and ability to easily combine data sets is where many of the benefits come from.
The title refers to the ownership of land. This is recorded in the title deeds and is then represented by a line shown over a map. This information captured in a title is attributed a unique reference; a title number.
It is certainly true that sometimes a title number might represent a single building, but it is also possible that it will cover a number of different buildings, or a single building with numerous units. And, not all properties are registered.
The UPRN provides a more granular and inclusive reference number.
The cost of creating a nationally managed and accurate reference number system from scratch is significant, but in the UK we already have this. The UPRN has been established for many years and is ‘owned’ and managed by GeoPlace, a joint initiative between Local Government and Ordnance Survey.
There is no catch, and no one is really going to make money from this, in fact the general consensus is that this will save money from efficiency gains. Address data is licensed by Ordnance Survey so any fees would go to them to fund the addressing system.
Once in wide use, the UPRN has very few downsides. It doesn’t favour one way of doing things over another, nor does it favour one company over another.
It is possible to look up your, or someone else’s, UPRN today for free at https://www.findmyaddress.co.uk/ (up to 30 times per day) – this will let you find your UPRN and you can then use it as widely as you like, so there is no cost at all.
If you are a company and want to adopt the UPRN across a whole organisation, this will mean updating your databases and systems. Today, this will bring with it a cost. However, the letter specifically calls for the Government to address this issue to make sure that it is possible to adopt it at no cost and to provide the tools to facilitate this.
The open letter calls for Government to do more about its communication and engagement around the UPRN with the property sector. If you are not technical, you are not alone. The property sector is huge, but often made up of SME’s which don’t have lots, or any technical resource.
In the short term as a starting point, talk to your technology providers and look at the GeoPlace ‘UPRN in Property’ webpage (www.geoplace.co.uk/addresses-streets/location-data/addresses-underpin-everything/uprn-and-property)
One of the challenges for property and property data is we mean different things when we talk about a property depending on its use or our perspective on it. Codes created by Royal Mail, the Valuation office, HM Land Registry, etc. are all important and represent something slightly different.
The most complete and granular identifier that we have today is the UPRN and this not only acts as an identifier, but also provides a link to many of the other identifiers providing even more ability to bring different data sets together. To find out more about property identifiers, how a look at this blog ‘Persistent and well-behaved identifiers’.
You don’t, many people already use the UPRN today and for those that don’t, all you need to do is record it alongside the details you already record. This might mean making a note by hand on a folder, adding a column to a spreadsheet or adding a new field in a data base.
No, the wide use of the UPRN is a single step towards improving the residential market, albeit a significant one. Whilst often behind the scenes, many of the challenges we face today are entirely, or in part down to, not being able to correctly identify a building or an inability to connect data sets.
If everyone used the UPRN, this would big a significant step towards solving this and allow the sector and consumers to benefit from the speed and efficiency that technology can deliver in the future.
The letter identifies certain conditions that the signatories believe need to be created by Government to make the wider adoption of the UPRN possible and effective. However, there are things that you can do today:
*The FAQ's listed here are intended to be a useful guide to some of the common questions that may occur and should not be relied upon for any business decisions. For the avoidance of doubt, these are not necessarily the views of the signatories of the letter.
The URPN: What’s in a number is our new white paper that is based on this conversation. It sets out the benefits and challenges of widespread adoption of the UPRN and looks in detail at the far-reaching implications of this important initiative for our whole industryThe UPRN: Whats in a number