Postcode Address File

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The Postcode Address File (PAF) is a database that 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. [1] It is available in a variety of formats including FTP download and compact disc, and was 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. [2]



The "delivery points" 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. [3] Buildings which contain internal flats or businesses but have only one external front door will only have those internal elements recorded in PAF if the Royal Mail have direct access to them using a key or fob.

File structure

ElementField nameDescriptionMax length
OrganisationOrganisation Name60
Department Name60
PremisesSub Building Name30
Building Name50
Building Number4
ThoroughfareDependent Thoroughfare Name60
Dependent Thoroughfare Descriptor20
Thoroughfare NameStreet [4] 60
Thoroughfare Descriptor20
LocalityDouble Dependent LocalitySmall villages [4] 35
Dependent Locality 35
Post town 30
Postcode Postcode 7
PO BoxPO Box6

Some versions of the PAF also contain the 'Delivery Point Suffix (DPS)' used in CBC (Customer Bar Code). Alternatively the DPS can be found using Royal Mail's 'Postcode Information File (PIF)' . [5]


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.

On the other hand, an example of external use would be a company which provides 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.

Public Sector Licence

Public Sector Organisations can now apply to use PAF under the Public Sector Licence Use Terms. The Public Sector Licence will be fully implemented on 1 April 2015.

Royal Mail has worked along with the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) & the Scottish Government to develop the Public Sector Licence. The Public Sector Licence is being centrally paid for by these organisations so individual public sector organisations will no longer need to return PAF licence fees to Royal Mail.

The eligible public sector organisations will be able to use PAF within their organisation and on their website for non-commercial purposes. In addition, licensed public sector organisations will be able to share data with other licensed organisations and work collaboratively on data-led projects. The following types of organisations will be eligible:

Any organisation wishing to apply can do so now through Royal Mail's Address Management Unit. The Public Sector Licence will be in place for an initial three years.

Alias data

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:

Royal Mail, in their guide to the data products [6] 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. [7]

The accounts for the PAF for 2005/6 disclosed an income of £18million, 8.6% of which was profit. [8]

Following a Government consultation, [9] 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 licence, as part of OS OpenData.

See also

Related Research Articles

Postcodes in the United Kingdom Postal codes used in the United Kingdom

Postal codes used in the United Kingdom are known as postcodes. They are alphanumeric and were adopted nationally between 11 October 1959 and 1974, having been devised by the General Post Office. A full postcode is known as a "postcode unit" and designates an area with several addresses or a single major delivery point.

Postal counties of the United Kingdom Subdivision of the United Kingdom

The postal counties of the United Kingdom, now known as former postal counties, were postal subdivisions in routine use by the Royal Mail until 1996. The purpose of the postal county – as opposed to any other kind of county – was to aid the sorting of mail by differentiating between like-sounding post towns. Since 1996 this has been done by using the outward code of the postcode instead. For operational reasons the former postal counties, although broadly based on the counties of the United Kingdom, did not match up with their boundaries: in some cases there were significant differences. The boundaries changed over time as post towns were created or amended.

E postcode area United Kingdom postcode area

The E (Eastern) postcode area, also known as the London E postcode area, is the part of the London post town covering much of the east of Greater London, England as well as Sewardstone, Essex. It borders the N postcode area to the west, both north of the tidal Thames. Since closure of the East London mail centre its mail is sorted at Romford Mail Centre together with IG and RM postcode areas.

In a postal system, a delivery point is a single mailbox or other place at which mail is delivered. It differs from a street address, in that each address may have several delivery points, such as an apartment, office department, or other room. Such buildings are often called multiple-dwelling units (MDUs) by the USPS.

A post town is a required part of all postal addresses in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and a basic unit of the postal delivery system. Including the correct post town in the address increases the chance of a letter or parcel being delivered on time. Post towns in general originated as the location of delivery offices. As of 2004, their main function is to distinguish between localities or street names in addresses not including a postcode.

IG postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The IG postcode area, also known as the Ilford postcode area, is a group of eleven postcode districts in England, within six post towns. These cover parts of eastern Greater London and south-west Essex. Inward mail for the area is sorted, along with mail for the E and RM postcode areas, at the Romford Mail Centre.

In the United Kingdom, the postcode lottery is the unequal provision of services such as healthcare, education and insurance prices depending on the geographic area or postcode. Postcodes can directly affect the services an area can obtain, such as insurance prices. Despite having many non-postal uses, postcodes are only determined based on Royal Mail operations and bear little relation to local government boundaries. More broadly, there is an unequal provision of services around the country, especially in public services, such as access to cancer drugs in the healthcare system or quality of education. These are more likely to be a result of local budgets and decision-making than actual postcodes.

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A "postal address" in the Republic of Ireland is a place of delivery defined by Irish Standard (IS) EN 14142-1:2011 and serviced by the universal service provider, An Post. Its addressing guides comply with the guidelines of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the United Nations-affiliated body responsible for promoting standards in the postal industry, across the world.

IM postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

Postcodes were introduced in the Isle of Man in 1993, with the island becoming the IM postcode area. Each town or area is associated with one or more postal districts, assigned by Isle of Man Post Office. Outside the larger towns, the postal districts are further broken down and each postal sector is assigned to a number of villages and settlements.

Address Point is a mapping/GIS data product supplied by Great Britain's national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey. It is based on the UK’s postal mail organisation, the Royal Mail, list of postal addresses, Postcode Address File (PAF). The most significant difference between Royal Mail list and Address Point is that Address Point includes the geographic coordinates of each postal address. This enables users to map the individual addresses.

GU postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The GU postcode area, also known as the Guildford postcode area, is a group of 38 postcode districts in South East England, within 24 post towns. These cover west Surrey, north-east Hampshire, northwestern West Sussex and a small part of south-east Berkshire.

S postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The S postcode area, also known as the Sheffield postcode area, is a group of postcode districts in England, which are subdivisions of eight post towns. These cover most of South Yorkshire, parts of north Derbyshire and north-west Nottinghamshire.

NW postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The NW postcode area, also known as the London NW postcode area, is a group of 13 postcode districts covering around 13,895 live postcodes within part of northwest London, England. It is the successor of the NW sector, originally created as part of the London postal district in 1856.

SG postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The SG postcode area, also known as the Stevenage postcode area, is a group of nineteen postcode districts in England, within fifteen post towns. These cover north Hertfordshire and east Bedfordshire, plus a small part of south-west Cambridgeshire and a very small part of Essex.

SA postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The SA postcode area, also known as the Swansea postcode area, is a group of 51 postcode districts for post towns Aberaeron, Ammanford, Boncath, Burry Port, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Clynderwen, Crymych, Ferryside, Fishguard, Glogue, Goodwick, Haverfordwest, Kidwelly, Kilgetty, Lampeter, Llanarth, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Llandysul, Llanelli, Llanfyrnach, Llangadog, Llangrannog, Llansaint, Llanwrda, Llanybydder, Milford Haven, Narberth, Neath, New Quay, Newcastle Emlyn, Newport, Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Pencader, Pontardawe, Port Talbot, Saundersfoot, Swansea, Tenby and Whitland forming south-west Wales.

TN postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The TN postcode area, also known as the Tunbridge Wells postcode area, is a group of 40 postcode districts in England, within 24 post towns. These cover south Kent and northern and eastern East Sussex, plus very small parts of Surrey and the London Borough of Bromley.

JE postcode area Postcode area within the United Kingdom

The JE postcode area, also known as the Jersey postcode area, is a group of postal districts covering Jersey.

The One Scotland Gazetteer is the definitive national land, property and address dataset for Scotland that is published by Spatial Information Service within the Improvement Service. It is compiled using information from all 32 Scottish councils and produced to common standards and specification. It is not to be confused with the Royal Mail Postcode Address File (PAF) which is only a list of mail delivery locations.

Postcodes in Australia Numeric codes in Australia

Postcodes in Australia are used to more efficiently sort and route mail within the Australian postal system. Postcodes in Australia have four digits and are placed at the end of the Australian address, before the country. Postcodes were introduced in Australia in 1967 by the Postmaster-General's Department and are now managed by Australia Post, Australia's national postal service. Postcodes are published in booklets available from post offices or online from the Australia Post website.


  1. "PAF Stats". Powered By Paf. Royal Mail Group Ltd. Archived from the original on 9 March 2016. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
  2. Arthur, Charles (22 January 2010). "Developers dismayed as No.10 blocks free postcode file". The Guardian . Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  3. "Ofcom | Postal Services" (PDF). Government of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  4. 1 2 "How to address your UK mail correctly". Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  5. "Know how: a user's manual for Mailsort®, Walksort®, Presstream®, Cleanmail®, Presstream® Walksort®, Royal Mail International Bulk Mail™ and Automated Standard Tariff Large Letter®" (PDF). Royal Mail. April 2007. p. 80. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 March 2016. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  6. PAF Digest [ permanent dead link ], p12
  7. PostComm. "Postcode Address File – review of the management of PAF". Archived from the original on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  8. "Royal Mail's Future management of PAF" (PDF). April 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  9. DCLG: Policy options for geographic information from Ordnance Survey: Consultation Archived 30 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine