Property boom fuels calls to reform 'postcode lottery'

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The estate agents' mantra that a property can be judged by the triple criteria of location, location, location has long rankled with those not lucky enough to find themselves geographically blessed.

The estate agents' mantra that a property can be judged by the triple criteria of location, location, location has long rankled with those not lucky enough to find themselves geographically blessed.

Now, under plans proposed by a cross-party group of MPs, every householder in Britain could get the right to change their postcode if they are unhappy with their current one.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs have called for an independent appeals process to be set up to tackle the so-called postcode anomalies.

With an increasing number of insurance companies, banks and other firms basing important decisions on postcodes, the MPs claim that the system, first created in the 1950s, no longer reflects modern reality.

However, they admit that for some homeowners the move is as much about inflating house prices as it is about combating postcode discrimination by home and car insurers.

Across the country, from Glasgow's G12 to Birmingham's B15, "golden postcodes" can add up to 10 per cent to a property's value, equivalent to tens of thousands of pounds.

Bringing new meaning to the phrase "postcode lottery", the MPs suggest the magic combination of six numbers and letters often has no logical reason. Some areas are divided unnaturally by Royal Mail boundaries or given codes that attach them to neighbouring counties and council areas.

A Commons early day motion points out that postcodes have ceased to be solely a mechanism for delivering letters. They play a crucial role in the planning of services by public and private agencies.

"Communities should be able to request their postcode is harmonised with their geographical or local government area where there are cogent reasons," the motion says.

Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and one of the backers of the proposal, said his constituents in Hampton Wick had been given Kingston's KT1 postcode, even though they lived across the Thames in the borough of Richmond. "It affects a lot of people. The postcodes they are allocated bear no relation to local areas or local authority boundaries," he said.

"I admit there is also a gradient of property prices and it can arouse very strong feelings. But it also has implications for house and car insurance and it is, for many, about a sense of belonging.

"Many of these postcodes are a hangover from the past, a post-war mentality of nationalised industries that tell you what's good for you."

Peter Bottomley, Tory MP for Worthing West, pointed out that the whole of the Isle of Wight had a Portsmouth (PO) postcode. He said: "It's about local identity. People should be able to have their address reflect their natural community instead of being forced to accept the postcode set years ago."

A spokesman for the Royal Mail said: "A lot of companies have used our system to sell products and services and we have no problem with that. How they use them is a question for the insurance industry and others, not us. Postcodes can be broken down into 14 different sectors and it is quite easy to do that.

"We look sympathetically at minor changes to the system. But there are some people who want to change their postcode because of house valuations. We are very polite but we get across the point that they are meant to be more about getting mail from A to B," he said.

The Royal Mail has relented in at least two well-known cases. In one instance, residents of a street in Belfast objected to their code ending in 1RA, and in another, homeowners in Sussex thought 5EX was a bit too racy.

The issue of "golden" postcodes came to a head when residents of luxury £250,000 apartments in Symphony Court, Birmingham city centre, threatened to sue developers over their address. They were promised a B1 postcode but instead the Royal Mail allocated them a B16 - the code for inner-city Ladywood.

One Solihull buyer was reduced to tears when a solicitor's slip-up put the site of her new home in the "wrong" postal address. The buyer was eventually reassured that her dream home did have the desired B91 postcode after all.

Developers and estate agents are often the ones who drive attempts to change the names of gentrified areas and London in particular has a plethora of "borders" and "villages" that try to escape their humble roots. One part of Hackney is now known as "Victoria Park Village", while developers have tried to rechristen part of Raynes Park (SW20) as "West Wimbledon" (SW19).

Christopher Sellwood, the deputy manager of Foxtons estate agents in Notting Hill, said the area's W11 postcode could add about £65,000 to the price of a one-bedroom flat, compared with neighbouring W10. "Allowing people to choose their own postcode would certainly make our lives fun," he said.

Letters with postcodes are said to be delivered 30 times faster than those without. There are 125 areas, 2,869 districts, and 9,516 sectors, giving a total of 1.8 million postcodes for 27 million addresses in Britain.

The difference a postcode makes

Surrey: Kingston and Hampton Wick

The pleasant suburb of Hampton Wick, on the west bank of the Thames, is, to most people, geographically and administratively a part of the London borough of Richmond. Except for the Post Office, who deem it to be part of Kingston upon Thames on the other side of the river.

Parts of Hampton Wick therefore carry a KT postcode, instead of the TW postcode that applies to all other parts of Richmond. To many people in the area, it is a piece of frustrating bureaucratic nonsense that they would rather live without.

"I live in Richmond and pay my council tax to Richmond and I simply do not see why I should have a postcode that tells people I live in Kingston," said Jean Brown, 80, who has campaigned for more than 30 years for a change.

But many local businesses, who would have to change advertising and letterheads, have opposed any such move, and some residents have also said they prefer a KT postcode because it feels more upmarket than Twickenham.

Terry Kirby

North London: Crouch End and Archway

Oliver Rivers may live in Sunnyside Road, but thanks to his postcode he doesn't live on the sunny side of the street.

Mr Rivers, 36, a management consultant who is studying at London Business School, has lived in a two-bedroom flat in London's N19 for more than six years.

But even though his flat is a stone's throw from leafy Crouch Hill and Crouch End Broadway, his address is grouped with the more down-at-heel Archway and Holloway Road.

"If I had the option to change to N8, then I probably would," he said. "I do all my shopping in Crouch End because it's a five-minute walk to the Broadway. It must make a difference to property prices and if you are talking around 10 per cent or £15,000 on a flat, then that's a large amount of money."

But he voiced doubt about MPs' proposals to allow postcode changes. "Although it may sound fine in theory, I would want to know how this idea would work in reality," he said. "What if you had someone who objected to being moved into a so-called better postcode? A class warrior may say they really like being in N19."

Paul Waugh

Glasgow Kelvinside and Maryhill

Sandwiched between Glasgow's upmarket Kelvinside district, postcode G12, and the not-so desirable residences of G13, which has some of the biggest council housing developments in Europe, lies Ancaster Drive.

Its elegant Victorian terraces look as if they belong to the affluent tree-lined roads a few yards away. But while the residents of G12 are seen as well-educated professionals, those in Ancaster Drive might be assumed to be less well educated, less affluent and a poorer credit or insurance risk. The average property price in G12 is more than £130,000. The same property in G13 is worth at least £15,000 less.

"If being able to change my postcode would save me a lot of money in house or car insurance than I would probably consider it," Felicity Jackson, a school teacher who has lived in Ancaster Drive for 22 years, said. "[But] surely there must be better things to spend money on than changing the way postcodes are organised."

Paul Kelbie