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Explainer: Is UPRN a solution to real estate’s data woes?

Unique Property Reference Numbers sound like a simple idea, but they aim to solve some of the basic problems real estate faces with its data, such as consistency and interoperability.

Every addressable location in the UK has a unique identifier – a UPRN – which provides a constant reference to a building throughout its entire lifecycle, regardless of the processes it might go through in that time.

In its latest energy performance certificate data release, the UK’s Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities has for the first time allocated UPRNs to its dataset.

Responding to the announcement, John Kimmance, managing director of National Mapping Services at the Ordnance Survey, called the UPRN “invaluable in bringing datasets together” to ensure greater transparency in real estate. But what makes it “invaluable”?

What is a UPRN?

Like a car’s number plate, a UPRN is a unique identifier for any building in the UK, assigned by local authorities and OS (with guidance from GeoPlace).

How is it useful for data management?

Every UPRN is unique and machine readable. As buildings accumulate data – everything from ownership to EPC ratings – there are more datasets from more sources to track. Linking all of these to a UPRN ensures all relevant data to a building can be identified.

In the case of EPCs, for example, a local authority can quickly check whether a specific UPRN has an associated EPC, rather than relying on tenants, landlords or homeowners.

Don’t addresses accomplish the same thing?

The benefit of UPRNs is that they are simple and have a consistent format, unlike addresses, which can be recorded in many different ways. A single UPRN identifies a specific location, which means there can be no confusion when different organisations, sectors or programmes use it to identify a specific site.

This can be particularly helpful in situations where a single building has multiple addresses, such as flats in a tower block.

What else can UPRN tell you about a building?

The Office for National Statistics maintains a directory, which links every UPRN to several other data points, including the location’s local and regional division, its urban/rural indicator and deprivation index.

How have organisations used UPRN?

The London Fire Brigade has used UPRN to model and predict fire risks in buildings across the capital. Doing so required combining a range data sources on addresses, property details, transport links, known hazards, previous incidents and demographic data – among other details. UPRN enabled them to link these disparate datasets into a holistic model.

Is UPRN use required or simply encouraged?

Last July, the UK government mandated that all public sector systems and processes use both UPRN and USRN (Unique Street Reference Number).

This year, the Institute of Residential Property Management, the residential industry body, sent the government an open letter urging the use of UPRN across the sector and detailing many of its benefits.

At the time, Dan Hughes, founder of Alpha Property Insight and the Real Estate Data Foundation, said: “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.”

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