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In a recent survey, 84% of customers said they would not purchase from a company after a poor delivery experience.

But address information is not static, and keeping it up to date can be a challenge in our digital society. Regularly cleansing your PAF (Postcode Address File) can save your company money. Let’s see how.

A correct address is a critical piece of information, because this is used for operational purposes (getting deliveries to customers), for analytics (where are my customers), for regulation enforcement (subject access request management) and so much more (e.g. matching to external sources for identity checks, affordability scores, retrieving flood risk information, demographics and so much more).

What is PAF?

PAF stands for Postcode Address File. It is a database maintained by Royal Mail that contains an accurate description of buildings and delivery instructions for mail carriers and shipping companies, it is the authoritative source of address information in the UK. Royal Mail is mandated by law to maintain the data and keep it updated. The database contains the postal delivery points for postcodes in the UK. At last count, the PAF database contained over 33 million Royal Mail addresses. It also contains 1.8 million postcodes. There are additional sources that complement PAF to help provide a more strategic approach to address quality management, such as multiple residence and not yet built data.

The PAF is an official record of addresses and is available to Charity or Community Interest Company users and businesses. It is available in formats that include FTP download and compact disc. Royal Mail must make it available at a reasonable cost.

If you are a business owner, you might think it is worth your while to obtain a copy of the PAF database for your marketing efforts and shipping addresses. One of the problems is its size- you need the means to query, manipulate, and store the data. With so many records, this is a daunting task.

Another problem with this is that new properties being built, building classifications changing (e.g. corporate offices being converted to residential flats – particularly since COVID)’ and this resulting in a lot of changes in the PAF data. As soon as you buy the PAF, it is outdated. The purpose of the PAF is not to give outside businesses the addresses they need, but to assure fast and efficient mail delivery. The file has a specific structure with sections that represent the:

  • Organisation name
  • Department name
  • Sub-building name
  • Building name
  • Building number
  • Dependent thoroughfare name
  • Dependent thoroughfare descriptor
  • Thoroughfare name
  • Thoroughfare descriptor
  • Double dependent locality
  • Dependent locality
  • Post town
  • Postcode
  • PO Box
  • British Forces Post Office (BFPO) – which PAF doesn’t contain, but Experian builds into the reference data we use, for customers who want it in their ‘presentation format of the address’

Each of these elements is limited to a certain number of characters. Bureau groups often licence the PAF for use inside and outside of their organisations. These organisations can include licenced call centres, bureaus, broker groups, and others that need this information. Some companies also use it to look up addresses on the order page of their website.

Royal Mail understands that the database contains errors and has a procedure for submitting errors and having them corrected. Not all buildings will be listed, such as those recently built and not listed on the PAF yet. An alias data file is available that contains records that have been changed by the public, road name changes, and delivery point name changes that can occur when a business moves and another one moves in.

If an address is not listed on the PAF, or the information is not listed on the PAF correctly, mail cannot be delivered to the address and you could have problems like transferring utilities and account addresses. It is up to the property owner if there is a change of property name, street name, the property is divided into two dwellings, or any of the information is not correct.

The problem is that many building owners are not aware they need to do this if the property changes. One example of this is if a manufacturing facility closes and is transferred to a different company.

You can see how easy it is to have incorrect information postcode address files. If you try to ship to an address that is not listed or that has incorrect information in the PAF file, it can be sent back to you as undeliverable or as “no such address.”

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Cost of poor data quality

A correct address is high-value data that means the ability to ship products, send invoices, and send marketing material. The PAF can be a useful tool for verifying addresses in your database. Perhaps when the customer was filling out the information to place an order, they mistyped a letter or forgot to put in an apartment number. Software that verifies the data against the PAF can help spot these errors and correct them so packages can be delivered accurately.

Another way businesses can use PAF information is by managing databases because the addresses are in a standardised format. This makes it easy to query and transfer between other databases and software. Transportation companies use the PAF to find the specific region where an address is located for route planning purposes.

These are only a few of the ways companies use the PAF to improve business operations.

However, inaccurate address information has a real cost for your company. It means having to reship products, issuing refunds, and dealing with unhappy customers. It can also mean hidden fees, such as those charged by carriers for address corrections. In ourĀ 2022 Global Data Management Research Report, 89% say contact data has become more important than ever to reach their customers during the pandemic and now.

As more data is collected from different sources, the inaccurate amount of data is certain to increase. This makes investments in data quality an excellent choice.

As you can see, the inability to resolve a correct postal address in the PAF database can have an impact on your business. Yodel is a long-standing partner with Experian, having entrusted us to manage their address data quality for many years. they increased first-time delivery rates by 5% using Experian address validation technology powered by location data.

PAF file cleansing solutions reduce losses

It’s vital to keep your address data up to date and in line with the PAF file. The PAF database continues to grow. Keeping track of changes for over 33 million total files can be daunting. The postcode address file is updated and changed up to 5,000 times a day. That is potentially over 35,000 updates each week. With that many changes, how do you keep up and make sure you have accurate information?

The solution is in address validation for your address data against the PAF file, like those offered by Experian. These services compare your address database with the PAF and have automatic updates. Data Cleansing also corrects misspellings or errors. It can help fill in missing elements and standardise the data for easier transfer across different platforms. This can help save you time and money by reducing missed deliveries and protecting customer trust in your company.

The cost of poor data quality is not a question of whether you can afford reliable solutions, it is a question of whether you can afford not to have them in place. Contact us if you’re interested in applying address validation services to your business.