3 December 2021 by Melanie Carroll

UPRNs – what are they, what do they do and how can they improve the house buying and selling process?

UPRN stands for ‘unique property reference number’ and was first created by the Ordnance Survey (OS) back in the 1990s.  Local governments have allocated a unique number of up to 12 digits to each piece of land or property.  OS estimate that a UPRN has been assigned to 40 million addressable locations. Given how extensive this is, the question is whether these numbers can revolutionise the house buying and selling process.

UPRNs have existed for some time now but a recent roundtable hosted by OS, and supported by industry experts, described them as a ‘gamechanger’. Is this correct, and if so, why haven’t they been used more widely before now?



As UPRNs can serve as a single point of reference for all the data connected with a property, this will help to reduce the risk of confusion and inaccuracies during the conveyancing process.  Ambiguity can often arise if a property has changed its name or if there has been a ‘sale of part’ of the land at some point.  If reliance can be placed on the data, then this will remove some of the errors and omissions that can occur.



It follows from the above that, if such confusion and ambiguity can be removed, then this will remove some of the delays from transactions. It’s interesting to note that the Law Society has recently revised certain forms to include this data – a clear intention on their part that this is the ‘the future’.



There is a distinct advantage to having all data relating to a property in one place. There have been various initiatives historically with this as the focus, and whilst none have succeeded, the objective remains laudable.  Home information packs, property passports and property logbooks have all been championed. With digitisation at the fore of the house buying and selling process, this approach is the way forward.


Whilst the opportunities are both evident and compelling, there are obstacles to UPRNs becoming the ‘gamechanger’ many hope they will be.  A recent survey conducted by Today’s Conveyancer revealed that 3 out of 10 respondents conceded that they did not know what a UPRN was and, of those who knew what it was, 77% admitted that they ‘never’ used this.  If this is the feedback from the legal sector, then there is some way to go to ensure widespread use and adoption.  Confidence in the system is also key.

Lenders play such a pivotal and influential part in the process that it’s obvious they too will need to embrace (and possibly mandate) this approach.

Finally, UPRNs must be shown to be entirely fool proof and this is not always the case. There can be discrepancies – for example a flat might be known as both “Flat 3” and “Top Floor”, which could result in two UPRNs for the same property. The data must be completely reliable to successfully effect change.

Ultimately, any initiative which has the objective of improving (and speeding up) the house buying and selling process is to be commended and supported but there is no ‘quick fix’.

For further advice and assistance on house buying and selling then please contact our residential real estate experts.

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