Keep Paf Public

Jeni Tennison

One of the key things you quickly realise when working with data is that some data is dramatically more useful than other data.

The Postcode Address File (PAF) is one of those dramatically useful datasets. It enables you to find a postcode for a given address, or find the range of addresses that have a given postcode. Its primary utility on the web is to check addresses provided by customers: to make sure that the address someone gives you actually exists, so that you can send them letters or deliver things to them. As such, it is essential for selling things online.

The Postcode Address File is managed by the Royal Mail, which is very likely to be privatised this year. Because Royal Mail assigns postcodes as well as recording information about them, it is the only source for this data: they have a monopoly.

PAF is a core piece of the UK’s information infrastructure. Whether in private hands or publicly owned, we believe it should be released as open data. We support the Open Data User Group’s call for an open single National Address Dataset. These datasets aren’t just useful for online retail, but their availability as open data could form the basis of sustainable value-added services and competitive “infomediary” businesses.

There is still a chance to influence whether PAF will form part of the Royal Mail privatisation package and, if it is part of that package, what constraints are placed on Royal Mail in its handling of PAF.

Make your opinion heard by adding your comment to Open Data User Group Chair Heather Savory’s blog post on this topic.