Royal Mail PAF API

Everything you need to know about Royal Mail PAF

The Royal Mail Postcode Address File (PAF) is an open database containing the postal addresses of over 30 million properties in the United Kingdom.

Today, the PAF database ensures mail gets delivered and keeps commerce moving with postcode lookup and verification services.

Here’s what the PAF contains:

  • 30m+ UK postal delivery addresses
  • 8m UK postcodes
  • 4m UK business names

Organisations and developers can access the PAF database, connecting their software to the PAF to access accurate addresses and postcodes. For example, postcode lookup in e-commerce checkouts is powered by PAF.

A brief history of postal codes

The first PAF database was built electronically in the early 1980s, but while the database was electronic, data collection was paper-based, with post carriers responsible for writing down address changes and submitting them.

As you can imagine, this process was slow and infrequent, but nether-the-less it was a remarkable improvement on how addresses were logged before.

Flashback to the 1850s and Royal Mail was overwhelmed by increasing mail volumes caused by population growth. Back then, postcodes weren’t invented, so mail carriers used street names and counted houses as they walked!

So, in the mid-1850s, London (which received the bulk of mail) was split into postal districts (EC, WC, N, E, SE, SE, W, NW), and properties were given a code. The rest of the country adopted this system, finally being completed in 1934.

The modern postcode we know today was created in 1959 by Postmaster General at the time, Ernest Marples, with a trial in Norwich. By 1974, every property in the UK had its own postcode, uniquely identifying it from all others.

The creation of PAF

Before computers and databases were invented, Royal Mail kept paper records of postal addresses that organisations could buy. However, paper records took up too much space, so the lure of electronic storage in the 1980s was huge.

The rest is history. In the early 1980s, Royal Mail created the first electronic database of postal addresses. By 1992, the manual, paper-based entry system was replaced by a digital maintenance solution with real-time updates.

In 1992, PAF received 200-600 updates per day. Today, it receives 4,000-5,000, leaving no address unturned when changes are needed.

PAF now contains the postal addresses of over 30 million properties in the United Kingdom and several thousand addresses for British service personnel overseas.

What data is in PAF?

The following data is held in PAF:

  • Address details (including premises, Thoroughfares, localities and Postcode)

Small User Residential, Small User Organisation and Large User Organisation details are held, excluding the Republic of Ireland and some parts of Northern Ireland. Some Delivery Points are also excluded, like churches and substations.

How PAF is used today

Royal Mail Group Ltd owns and maintains PAF data in which it has copyright. The data is available to external organisations as raw data.

The Royal Mail Postcode Address File is used by Royal Mail to deliver mail, but its reach extends far beyond this. It is used by nearly every delivery company in the United Kingdom, so it is integral to the logistics sector being able to operate.

PAF is also used in satellite navigation, mapping and customer profiling services. As you might suspect, it also reaches even further than this.

The PAF database is used across supply chains. For example, e-commerce websites use it to provide postcode lookup services, and warehouses use it to verify shipping addresses, while credit check companies use it to verify new customers.

The simplest example of how PAF is used today is postcode lookup in e-commerce. When you type a postcode into a lookup field, it recommends addresses based on data held in the PAF database, which is why it is so accurate.

Royal Mail says over 40,000 businesses use PAF to:

  • Develop lookup software
  • Make online transactions easier
  • Deliver mail efficiently
  • Verify customer information
  • Manage shipping databases
  • Identify addresses in geographic areas

The use cases are limitless, with the PAF playing a crucial role in any technology that needs accurate, up to date information on UK addresses.

How we use PAF

Our postcode lookup API uses PAF to find delivery addresses in seconds. Two solutions are offered: Postcode Lookup and Address Auto-Complete.

PAF is integral to our service because it provides the database from which addresses are matched to postcodes. By using our API, you can tap into PAF-verified data and integrate a reliable postcode lookup tool in your e-commerce store.

What problems does PAF solve?

PAF underpins databases with accurate postal delivery address information. It’s automatically updated, trusted by thousands of organisations, and underpins thousands of third party products and services.

Here are some of the common problems it solves for organisations:

  • Saves money by reducing costs associated with returned and undelivered mail
  • Saves time by being easily integrated into software
  • Provides access to all UK postal addresses in a single solution
  • Verifies addresses in seconds
  • Makes online transactions easier
  • Keeps databases, mailing lists, and CRM systems up-to-date
  • Reduces abandoned carts in e-commerce (with postcode/address lookup)
  • With Royal Mail delivery services, it helps you qualify for discounts on mail

When to use PAF

Now that you know how PAF is used today, let’s take a look at some of the business scenarios where using PAF makes sense:

  • You want to create or maintain a customer database that will automatically update address and postcode information.
  • You need to capture address details online, but the submitted information might be fragmented, e.g. only a postcode.
  • You rely on accurate address and postcode data for mailing lists, sales, marketing and promotional activities.
  • You are a delivery company wanting to keep databases in-house, so you have full control over information without being tied to a service.
  • You want to create a rapid addressing system or address auto-fill tool for internal or external purposes.

You should use PAF to create, manage and maintain customer databases, mailing lists, and CRM systems. The delivery address and postcode records contained within PAF can form the backbone of any database.