Postcode Address File
The Postcode Address File (PAF) is a database which contains all known "Delivery Points" and postcodes in the United Kingdom. The PAF is a collection of over 29 million Royal Mail postal addresses and 1.8 million postcodes. It is available in a variety of formats including ftp download, compact disc and previously available as Digital Audio Tape. As owner of the PAF, Royal Mail is required by section 116 of the Postal Services Act 2000 to maintain the data and make it available on reasonable terms. A charge is made for lookup services or wholesale supply of PAF data. Charges are regulated by Ofcom. It includes Small User Residential, Small User Organisation and Large User Organisation details. There have been requests as part of the Open Data campaign for the PAF to be released by the government free of charge.
The addresses held on the PAF are routing instructions used by Royal Mail staff to sort and deliver mail quickly and accurately. Elements of the address, including the post town and postcode are occasionally subject to change, reflecting the operational structure of the postal delivery system. Each address is therefore not necessarily a geographically accurate description of where a property is located. Buildings which contain internal flats or businesses but only have one external front door, will only have those internal elements recorded in PAF if they are clearly labelled on the outside, at the external front door or letterbox.
Structure of the file
|Element||Field name||Description||Max length|
|Premises||Sub Building Name||30|
|Thoroughfare||Dependent Thoroughfare Name||60|
|Dependent Thoroughfare Descriptor||20|
|Thoroughfare Name||Street ||60|
|Locality||Double Dependent Locality||Small villages ||35|
|PO Box||PO Box||6|
The PAF licence sets out what PAF can be used for. Licensing options include internal and external use and also more advanced options such as Bureau Services and Broker Groups.
An example of typical Internal Use is an employee of a licensed Call Centre who uses a PAF based solution to look up and verify customer addresses. The PAF data is only being used within the licensed end-user and is not passed on to any other legal entity.
An example of External Use on the other hand would be a company who provide a PAF based address look-up on their customer facing website for their own customers to use when they order goods or services.
Royal Mail provide licensing advice on their website
The Alias File is a supplementary file containing additional data which are not part of official postal addresses, including details that have changed over time, or have been amended by the public and then used. This file is used to identify these elements and cross-reference with the official postal address.
The Alias File holds four types of record: Locality, Thoroughfare, Delivery Point Alias, and County Alias:
- The Locality record - old short forms, local names, and 'postally-not-required' (PNR) details.
- The Thoroughfare record - contains replacement street and road names for a given locality, thoroughfare or dependent thoroughfare combination.
- The Delivery Point Alias record - holds additional information at given addresses, such as trading names and building names.
- The County record - holds traditional, administrative and postal county information.
Royal Mail, in their guide to the data products imply that the county alias information was provided when Royal Mail removed the former postal county from the main file.
Royal Mail acknowledges that the PAF contains errors, and publishes forms for submitting error reports. A very small number of addresses are not listed correctly, and others (especially new developments) may not be listed at all for a period of time.
Costs and public availability
Between 2004 and 2006 a consultation was taken about the future management of the PAF. The proposal to release it for use at low or no cost was rejected, and the business model where it was used to raise money from profitable corporations was retained.
The balance sheet for the PAF for 2005/6 disclosed an income of £18million, 8.6% of which was profit.
Following a Government consultation, on 1 April 2010 Ordnance Survey released co-ordinate data for all Great Britain postcodes (but not their address elements) for re-use free of charge under an attribution-only license, as part of OS OpenData.
- Arthur, Charles (2010-01-22). "Developers dismayed as No.10 blocks free postcode file". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- "Ofcom | Postal Services". Postcomm.gov.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- "How To Address UK Mail Correctly To Ensure It Gets Delivered To The Correct Address First Time". Postcoder.com. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- PAF Digest, p12)
- PostComm. "Postcode Address File - review of the management of PAF".
- "Royal Mail's Future management of PAF". April 2007.
- DCLG: Policy options for geographic information from Ordnance Survey: Consultation[dead link]
- PAF from Royal Mail
- Technical guide to using the PAF file - A document that explains the PAF file in some detail.
- Alias File from Royal Mail
- GB postcode geolocation file (excludes Northern Ireland)
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