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Ireland Gets a New “Postcode”…sort of…

Date: August, 2015 --

There is a good reason the new Irish “building identification code” is not referred to by its designer, Capita, as either an “address” or a “postcode” but as an “Eircode’.  The new system is not even intended to be a “postcode system”; if by postcode system we mean the building identification methodology used for mail delivery. In fact, An Post has said they will not use the new code for deliveries; instead leaving is use completely optional. Despite what Eircode is not, it is a new element likely to become present within Irish postal address data, so we’re here with everything you need to know… 

Not a postcode system

Eircode is most definitely not a postcode system as most posts and postal customers envision such systems. Why you ask? One important government specification for the project makes it simultaneously clear yet puzzling. This is that Eircode “will not require change to the current postal addresses, and addresses shall not need to be numbered or streets named where currently this is not the case”.

So, no new street names, and buildings won’t have sequential street numbers. How very curious. But, in fact, it makes sense in a country where the urban bits, at least, tend to have street names and numbers already, to which people are accustomed (anyone who’s resides or has been will notice our emphasis on ‘tend’).

In the countryside, as many a lost foreign visitor will attest, buildings also tend to not have addresses, road signs are puzzling or non-existent, and an entire village will sometimes share a single address. Such a “shared address” is referred to as “non-unique”, and somewhere near 35% of the addresses in Ireland, mainly in rural and small village areas, are non-unique and represent more than one building/residence! 

Structure & Content for the Post 

The company that won the public tender to design and implement the Eircode is a major government services outsource provider named Capita, headquartered in London, England. In early July, a letter went out from Capita to every “address” in Ireland informing the occupants of their new ‘Eircode’.

Regarding the code and its mechanics, Capita discloses that an Eircode consists of two parts. Suppose your house’s code is A65  F4E2. The first 3 character bit is a “routing key”; it is meant to generally identify a geographic area, one of delivery/sortation functionality for the Post. It is apparently not as strictly a defined area as an American “Zipcode”, a system which is quite “determinate” both geographically and functionally.  Rather, when a new building is constructed, An Post will decide what “key” it belongs to depending on the shape of their postal delivery routes in that area. And with that decision made, An Post exits the story of this “postcode”.   

Houses bearing this key are delivered from the same delivery office or sortation center from which the postmen begin their “walks”. However, the official website says, “The routing key will be used to help sort mail; however, it is not directly linked to counties, towns and geographic features.” Confused yet? There are some 137 of these routing keys, each of which stretches across 200 square miles on average. That would certainly seem to be pretty clearly postal and geographic, but it is not. One of the keys, the Limerick area, contains an enormous number of houses – 86,000. By any stretch, that’s a couple of sort centers.  

The Unique Address “Bit”

Now, turning to the second part of an Eircode, in this case F4E2, we confront what makes this code very strange in one respect, and a wonderful advance, in another.

F4E2 identifies a building in which there are people or businesses who receive mail. This is called a “unique identifier”. Every building will have one. It is a locator, but not necessarily an address as we would define it, nesting amongst other addresses in a perceivable order. If all houses were to have these painted on the front door, they would appear totally random.

However, as noted above, this is an improvement for Ireland, since something like 35% of the ‘traditional’ addresses now in use are “non-unique”, which is to say they reference more than one building. As we mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon for an entire village of 12 or 13 houses to have one address, yet, with the issuance of the new codes, every inhabited building will have its own unique identifier. Moreover, every apartment/living unit will have a “unique identifier”.

This is good news if some of your customers live in apartments or in rural villages.  No need to write “Apt. 74” when you mail a parcel to a customer. His/Her Eircode, say B83 G6M4, specifically refers to his/her 7th floor flat. 

On the other hand, this is something no signage anywhere will disclose, unless the building management decides to “translate” the apartment designations. This would look something like “B83 G6M4 = Apt. 74, 7th floor”. 

The key takeaway: Forget using these “addresses” to plan targets and campaigns if you target neighborhoods.  

So, Ireland ends up with something that can’t really be called a postcode system, except in part for the first bit. The second bit appears to be a system for random scattering of unrelated letters and numbers, which aren’t even posted on buildings.

But, until the people who will be affected by this project get their “addresses” correct in the records that make up their social, political, employment, health and working lives, which is just about everyone, Ireland will be in for a messy adjustment period. 

Or, no adjustment period at all if the population simply ignores the codes, which is quite possible. And should this be so, this will be why you needn’t rush to change your customers’ addresses on file until you hear from them.  But rest assured, should “take-up” pick up, Data Services, Inc. will be making arrangements to have access to the data in order to do that for you and to make sure your clients’ addresses are accurate.