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Winner GeoPlace Exemplar Award 2021 - Barnsley Council

Barnsley Council use the UPRN to identify vulnerable individuals and provide support during the Covid-19 pandemic

At the onset of the pandemic Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council wanted to take a proactive approach to support members of its community. The Council opted to build a Vulnerability Index. The Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) played a key role in the development of the Index, which was a composite of 26 different data sources – all combined through their common location. Data from NHS England was also linked with the UPRN to support Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) and shielding members of the population. 330 additional households were identified as in need from this work, and over 17,000 support calls made across the Borough.

Barnsley Town Hall with gardens in bloom 1200x675 UPRN 10022877298
Barnsley Town Hall with gardens in bloom - UPRN 10022877298

The Solution

At the beginning of the pandemic, officers were asked to provide maps showing residents over 70 years of age, as these were a known group of people most at risk from COVID-19. However it was acknowledged that in fact everyone was at risk during the pandemic and as such using data to better understand the range of factors of residents proved valuable.

To develop this deeper view of residents, Barnsley developed a Vulnerability Index. This intended to show vulnerability on a scale according to the known risk factors. This could then be used to segment and prioritise proactive signposting to support services.

The Council identified 26 different data sources which could inform the Vulnerability Index. This included Council Tax information, housing benefits, electoral roll and other internal data sets. The common factor between these different data sources was their location. This is where the UPRN provided the key to be able to link the different data sources together at the property level.

Manually matching the UPRN to these data sources and combining them together took staff around two weeks to complete. From this, they could indicate every property in the area and to see the distribution of scores throughout the borough based on physical and geographical data.


The Vulnerability Index was made available to internal staff both via map format and an interactive dashboard. Using this intelligence, council staff could prioritise the outreach programme, including letters, telephone calls and home visits to vulnerable residents.

Through March, April and May 2020, over 17,000 calls were made to 10,000 properties. Importantly, the Vulnerability Index enabled the Council to identify an additional 330 households which had not previously been identified as vulnerable. Additional support and help was offered to these households and brings to life the acute value of location based solutions.

In addition to the information held by the Council, daily feeds of data from Public Health England were received - reporting Covid-19 test results of residents in the area. This valuable information contained resident names, addresses and NHS number, but not the UPRN. This meant that daily manual matching was required to gain maximum value from the intelligence.

There was a need to make the Vulnerability Index sustainable and as such, over time the team developed matching scripts to automatically match the new data together. This proved more sustainable and offers opportunities for the future too.

Smiling senior man standing at the window looking out during quarantine

Challenges Faced

At the onset of the first wave of Covid-19 the council team received 70 data requests from across the organisation and knew that there would be a lot of data requests to follow. Therefore, the custodian went to the Council Data Protection Officer (DPO) to establish the legal basis for sharing and combining data in an emergency response, with the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) providing greater freedoms to access data which are usually constrained to specific uses, for example the full electoral register.

The team also faced some challenges around a lack of understanding from colleagues on the project, it was difficult to get people to visualise what the end result would be. However, within the team it was known that they would be able to join data through the UPRN and give households a score based on the vulnerability indicators. The team constantly encouraged people to engage with the work they were doing, and this challenge was overcome quickly, mainly by showing the outputs and maps. This enabled other staff to really see the power of what the team were doing and brought it to life.

Lessons Learnt

During the second lockdown the council used the lessons they learned from the first lockdown through joining the UPRNs to corporate inputs (Vulnerability Index, priority groups etc.) Interrogating customer account information allowed patterns to be examined such as whether residents had contacted the council about financial support.

During the second wave of Covid-19, other data sources were also combined to the Index. For example, data on deaths and hospital admissions. This enabled staff who were contacting residents to know more about the particular needs of residents and tailor the support offered where possible, as well as being sensitive to the situations of people who were suffering from disease and bereavement.

A case management system and a dashboard were put together using the UPRN which allowed the council to support 15,000 residents who tested positive for Covid-19. The UPRN was pivotal in the creation of the system, supplementing data provided from the National Test and Trace service with local data. As Barnsley Councils IT department had good understating of the UPRN they were able to build a robust custom case management system.

Future Plans

A lot of the work carried out during the pandemic was cross sector work. Going forward, the council plans to work with local health services to develop the project further and ensure vulnerability is better understood across local services. However, the council used UPRNs as the key data set which linked further data sets. Central government and the NHS often do not use UPRNs and aggregate data. The use of the UPRN was a revelation to these bodies, it displayed that people in households can be profiled when data is joined together.

Dearne Valley Park Barnsley South Yorkshire UPRN 100050649580
Dearne Valley Park, Barnsley - Entrance UPRN 100050649580
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