back to article MP urges Royal Mail rethink on postcode site takedown

Tom Watson MP has fired off a letter of complaint to the Royal Mail Group, in which he grumbles that the UK postal service’s legal action against a two-man operated postcode lookup site was a "heavy handed" and "deeply regrettable" move. The Labour politician and ex-government minister for digital engagement asked the Royal …


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  1. Trevor 10


    An MP that actually seems to understand the arguements for something relating to the internet.

  2. Sam Liddicott

    Open postcode database


  3. Sam Liddicott

    Open postcodes

    I mean to post this link, not the other one:

  4. OpenSauce

    Google maps

    Seems to point you to the right area if you put in a post code, and in reverse will give the first part of the code if you know town and street.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    Not entirely sure what the fuss is about - The Royal Mail (which last I looked is state owned) is trying to prevent unauthorised used of something created through the use of public funds.

    If they weren't taking such action, I'm sure other people would be chastising them for *not* trying to stop unauthorised used of something created with public funds...

    Shouldn't we be pleased that a publically owned organisation is trying to make a profit?

  6. Anonymous Coward


    I seemed to have walked into some form of alternative dimension where politicians are making sense and making reasonable demands?!

    "We ain't in Kansas anymore Toto!"

    Sorry, I'll just climb back into the wardrobe and re-emerge in my own messed up dimension...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Royal Post FAIL

    Why is the UK the ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WHOLE WORLD that treats its postal codes as licensable IP? Even Google Maps geocoding service won't reverse-geocode a UK postal code down to the last digit because of this.

  8. djhworld

    Lawyer fees

    I'd be interested to know how much money was spent pursuing this considering the huge job cuts and "efficiency" plans that RM management want to implement, which has been rejected by the workforce resulting in a national strike

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    "Meanwhile, campaigners have started a online petition"

    You can't sign the petition without giving your postcode.

    I think this should go further and allow for profitable use of the PAF as well, Royal Mail should be forced to inovate just like this company if they want to make money off the PAF, rather than trolling it for a measley 1.6M / year in licensing fees.

  10. Mathew White


    Maybe Mr Tom Watson MP might (pure conjecture) have had something to do with the government 's Job Site Plus using this illegal-under-royal-mail's-EULA/terms-and-conditions, in his capacity as 'minister for digital engagement '. If this were the case, coming out on royal mail's side might be a tad embarrassing.


    So you think it would be fine for me to go and sell a premium rate phone line for:

    "Unique personal assistance of any kind, even if your house is burning or your leg is chopped off, well help!"

    ... that in fact just forwards the call to 999...? We've paid for the police as taxpayers, why cant someone else make a bit of profit off it eh? The police don't like someone else charging to block their switchboards, oh noes!?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UF4 1LD

    The Royal Mail is publically owned.

    In other words it belongs to us.

    Why should we have to pay to use something which we already own?

  12. Gaz Davidson

    Free those postcodes!

    Everyone, get on now, click the edit tab and attach a postcode tag to your road. Then go to and add your postcode to that map too.

    Finally, if you own a business directory made by users, please get in touch with me. I'd like to extract those postcodes and inject them into OSM for the good of future generations.

    gaz at bitplane dot net

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You're missing the point--because they are publicly owned they can do something for the good of the nation without having to worry about how to make a profit from it.

  14. chris 233


    Seems illogical to me that you can't look up a post code; I want to mail some bloke a letter, I know the street address, how do I find out what the postcode is? I have to pay Royal Mail #50 for that? How did this system ever take off?

  15. Adam Salisbury

    @ A.N. Other

    Oh yeah genius that is, running public sector to try and turn a profit, it'scalled privatisation and it's worked so well so far hasn't it???

  16. Fred 1


    No worries. Now that somebody has started a petition, the problem is as good as solved. Just look at all of the other famous successes of this method. Like er... and ah...


  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    As well as postcodes, barcode information should be publicly available too.

  18. Jimmy Floyd

    On the subject of petitions

    Although it's completely off-topic, all this talk of petitions on the Number 10 website has reminded me that a former Reg favourite petition is about to come up to the deadline:

  19. Steven Jones

    @UF4 1LD

    Just because you own something, doesn't meant that it doesn't have running costs. We might well collectively own the highways, but we still pay taxes to keep them maintained. We own the Royal Mail, but we still pay for stamps.

    There is some people around with no idea of economics. The Royal Mail is in enough financial trouble without being forced to give away more income.

    In this case, Tom Watson is being a populist idiot. The lookup service is free for private individuals - if businesses get value out of it, then I see no reason why they shouldn't contribute to the costs of producing the system. Do we just want those costs added onto the price of a stamp?

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Postcode Resellers

    It is kind of amusing that non-UK companies can make money licensing and reselling UK postcodes to UK websites.

    If there's no public list of postcodes, is it possible to compile a public list of addresses?

    And if so, then can't someone just set up a subscription to a postcode service and poll every known address from a collated database, and store the returned postcode?

    Oh wait, I had a sub once myself, and I forgot that they charge you per postcode (or block of postcodes).

    ANYONE that thinks it's perfectly legit that companies should pay for Postcode lookups, especially web services, is out of their mind. It's even worse than bloody google Adwords for money drain, unless you have oodles of cash to buy non-per-postcode access.

  21. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    This has got to put the wind up companies like AFD

    Who essentially make a living by licensing the PAF database from RM, and reselling it, along with an API to third parties. I would imagine it would cause them a bit of a headache if the PAF database was available to all and sundry and the average programmer could just write queries to it themselves...

  22. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge


    What, you mean the royal mail barcodes that they stick on the post? Those ones that contain the postcode, delivery point suffix and a check digit? The ones you can print on any printer if you have a copy of the postal barcode font?

    Or maybe you're talking about one of the many other ones that are a published and publicly available format like code 3 of 9?

  23. Steen Hive

    @AN Other

    "Shouldn't we be pleased that a publically owned organisation is trying to make a profit?"

    Yeah that's right - sell the people back the data they have already paid for! That's like the taxpayer-financed UKHO map data being sold back to sailors to help them avoid being smashed on the rocks.

    ... oh wait...

  24. Anonymous Coward

    @free the postcodes!

    Yeah! I'll do my bit.

    Goes to, zoom zoom pan zoom, edit = login or register! Sod that, life's too short.

    Goes to, box no 1 asks for a valid email. Sod that too.


  25. Avalanche

    @Royal Post FAIL

    The UK isn't the only country that treats postcodes as IP; the Netherlands does the same. The Dutch postcode system was created by the then PTT, now TNT and as such owns the database and all rights to it. It does not matter that PTT was then owned by the state; and neither does it in the case of Royal Mail.

    This has been asserted in various lawsuits.

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. Anonymous Coward

    @Steen Hive (and others)

    Except it isn't the public, it is (for the most part) commercial organisations making use of the postcodes for financial gain.

    An individual can make up to 15 free postcode searches each day. So try coming up with a sarcastic reply that doesn't make you look like a smuck next time.

  28. Anonymous Coward


    "I think this should go further and allow for profitable use of the PAF as well, Royal Mail should be forced to inovate just like this company if they want to make money off the PAF, rather than trolling it for a measley 1.6M / year in licensing fees."

    If the PAF data is freely available, then there is no real opportunity for Royal Mail to make money from it; at the moment they can charge a license fee, what you're suggesting would remove that possibility. Ernest Marples Postcodes Ltd. (operators of are being innovative, in that they want to provide postcode related services but can't afford the license fee from Royal Mail so they are starting a Freetard campaign to make postcodes license free.

    Also, the Direct Marketing Association wrote to the Post Office about PAF license fees:

    The document quotes "30k license holders" and costs varying "£2k to £9k"; that's a lot more than £1.6 million (more like £100 million), so the Post Office can be expected to want to hang on to this money.

    Don't get me wrong; I think there is a good case for making the PAF data free for everyone, but there is a cost to the PAF data and the decision has to be taken by the UK government that it is prepared to pay for the postcode database directly out of public funds.

  29. Matt Hawkins

    @chris 233

    @chris 233

    You can lookup the post code if you know the street address for free. That isn't what the fuss is about.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    found this on tom watson's blog

    good old wikileaks

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    By barcodes I meant the EAN numbers for all standard grocery products etc.. Mobile phone apps to scan barcodes could be a lot more productive than just scanning books and CDs.

  32. Red Bren

    @Everyone except A.N. Other (and a couple of others!)

    Royal Mail built and maintain the PAF database, to streamline their own operations. A brilliant innovation paid for by the UK tax payer. They offer free access for non-commercial, personal use or at a reasonable fee for corporate use. What is the problem with this? Why should this work be given away for free for other people to profit from?

    The revenue that RM receives from PAF helps subsidise the postal service. If it is taken away, we all end up paying, either through government subsidy (i.e. tax) or through higher postage costs. So who should pay? The general public or the companies trying to make a profit from it?

  33. Blubster

    A total waste of time.

    Don't know why they introduced post-codes in the first place - those gaumless sods at our local Royal Mail totally ignore them anyway.

    I live in a road that has the same name used in different areas. The number of times I get post meant for someone at the same address but different area, you wouldn't believe. AND it's got the post-code for the other address on it. Obviously, they just read the address totally ignoring the name and post code on it.

  34. Steen Hive

    @A.N Other

    "An individual can make up to 15 free postcode searches each day. So try coming up with a sarcastic reply that doesn't make you look like a smuck(*) next time."

    It doesn't matter a shite if it's an individual or a commercial organization accessing the data - taxpayers paid for it, taxpayers ( yes, even commercial ones ) should have access to it. People who add value to the data are welcome to make a profit with that added value, anything else is just being taxed twice for the data.

    (*) Ad hominem attacks are usually more effective after processing by a spell-checker

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The post office are using my house name in their database

    They should send me royalties everytime somebody looks it up..

  36. Steven Jones

    @Steen Hive

    Taxpayer did not pay for the production of the postal code system. It was paid for by the Royal Mail from revenue received from its business. The state just happens to own the Royal Mail.

    The Royal Mail is not the NHS. The Royal Mail is a state owned business that is meant to be self-funding. The NHS is paid for directly from tax revenues (there is a very small part of its income from other sources).

  37. Steen Hive

    @Steven Jones

    "Taxpayer did not pay for the production of the postal code system."

    Yes they did. It was a government department called the GPO. Nowadays it is a statutory corporation in public ownership, which means anything you pay for it's services is a tax, just like the TV licence.

  38. Patrick Ernst
    Thumb Down

    who owns the data

    Is the issue that this company is using the Royal Mail database without paying or just using the information? If company X manually created a private database which matched postcodes to localities is that not a valid use of publicly available information? Its like the RM is saying that they own the rights to GKUGYG-98479 is they decided to use this as a postcode for Norwich. It's just letters and numbers. Put it in a collated form, which has involved effort and labour - access to that I can understand being licensed. It seems company X did exactly that but licensing their API. Did their API do nothing but search the RM database or was it a database independant of the RM one?

    I guess this is a bit like a traffic authority saying you can't use the names of streets in a commercial or free product, because its their IP and they therefore own the names.

    Kind of answered my own question, from the Ernest Maples web site

    " Where's the data coming from?

    We're not saying. But, just to be clear: we don't hold a copy of the postcode database ourselves, neither in complete form nor as part of a cache."

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