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23 April 2012

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Improved access to web-based services and the improvement to credit rating for Armed Forces community serving overseas or onboard HM Ships and Submarines

Background

Service personnel and their families serving overseas or onboard HM Ships and Submarines can experience difficulty in acquiring web-based commercial products and services due to the inability of websites to accept and recognise the BFPO addressing format. It has been common practice for the majority of UK websites to be only configured to accept UK postcodes and only a few of the larger retailers have modified their web sites to accept BFPO.

One of the aims of the Armed Forces Covenant is to improve the access of Service personnel to commercial products and services. The Armed Forces Covenant Interim Report published in 2011 summarised the ongoing work in this area, including specific reference to finding a solution to BFPO addresses to contain a UK postcode by Spring 2012 which the MOD, British Forces Post Office (BFPO) and the Royal Mail have been working together to improve.

Additionally Credit reference agencies use a UK address listing as part of their assessment when determining a credit rating. BFPO addresses were not recognised as a UK address and this caused credit rating deficiencies for those serving overseas.
Introduction of a UK ‘shadow’ Postcode database

BFPO and Royal Mail have worked together to solve these issues by introducing a UK ‘shadow’ postcode database for all BFPO addresses. In addition to improving access to a range of online services including buying goods online and making it easier to access Government online services, this will assist Credit Reference agencies with their assessments and Armed Forces personnel serving overseas with maintaining a UK credit history recognised by financial service providers and in turn improve access to financial products.

The technical solution developed will enable BFPO addresses to be recognised by websites. It has been achieved by linking each BFPO number with a unique UK style (but non-geographic) postcode. It was released commercially in March 2012 as part of the Royal Mail Postal Address File (a monthly updated product for webpage managers and designers) – Royal Mail own all UK postcodes. It is anticipated that credit rating agencies and government departments will be among the first to use this and that other companies will begin to update their internet services to accept BFPO numbers from 12 April 2012 onwards.

Automated New Postcodes for Websites

The new post codes are solely for use on websites. The layout of many web pages varies but the new automated process will allow a BFPO post code to be entered onto the post code field. The BFPO number entered (in the post code field) will allow the website to auto populate the relevant box with the UK-style postcode (either automatically or via a “search” button). Where a delivery address is generated the BFPO details should auto fill the street and town details with the BFPO address and the BFPO number.

Mail Handling Procedures

The BFPO sorting office in London processes in the region of 29 million items per year.
Therefore to negate the possibility of a deluge of incorrectly addressed mail there will be no change to the current BFPO addressing protocol that will continue to use the BFPO number as the last line of the address.

Time Scale for Introduction

The new post codes are a commercial product that companies can purchase and require (in most cases) some local modification to individual company websites. Neither the MOD or the Royal Mail can mandate companies to buy this commercial product. However, it is anticipated that credit rating agencies and government departments will be among the first to purchase them. It is anticipated that other companies will begin to update their internet services to accept BFPO numbers from Apr 12 onwards. Further details will be promulgated through internal channels and also via the BFPO section on the MOD website, the Royal Mail website and at Post Offices.

The Benefits of Credit Referencing

The role of a Credit Reference Agencies (CRA) is to make it possible for lenders to make fair, consistent, responsible lending decisions. By sharing factual credit data through the agencies in a secure and compliant way, lenders are able accurately to evaluate the borrowing capacity of prospective customers. The upshot of this is that good borrowers are able to build a positive credit history and use it to benefit from more and cheaper lending. Conversely, lenders are able to identify unsuitable borrowers, for example because they are already overcommitted. The introduction of this UK ‘shadow’ postcode database will help improve access to credit by providing details of an address in a recognisable format, this in turn will support individual recognition for credit rating purposes. The CRA’s continue to work with the MOD and Royal Mail to ensure relevant changes are implemented so that Service personnel can use their BFPO address for credit applications.

Feedback

For the 100,000 Armed Forces personnel and their families overseas this new BFPO shadow postcode solution will make a difference. As a result of its launch Service personnel serving overseas are encouraged to provide feedback of their experience to their chain of command, and through available single-Service feedback mechanisms. You can also send your feedback to BFPO customer care staff at the following e-mail addresses: DESBFPO-Enquiries@mod.uk or DES BFPO-ENQUIRIES(multiuser).

Questions and Answers

Q1. Why are we doing this?
A1. British Forces serving overseas should not be disadvantaged by their foreign assignments and should rightly be able to access goods and services that the rest of the UK take for granted.

Q2. How will this help?
A2. The introduction of UK style postcodes linked to BFPO addresses will produce a recognisable format that can be more easily read by internet sites.

Q3. Why has it taken so long for this to happen?
A3. Mail has always been capable of being handled but it is the growth of e-commerce and more recently the drive for Government Services to be web based that has provided the impetus for this change.

Q4. How did Service Personnel abroad get mail or internet shopping before?
A4. BFPO operates as an extension of the domestic mail market. Royal Mail and Parcelforce route BFPO addressed mail via the BFPO (London) sorting office and similarly Trading Companies or their couriers under contract with BFPO deliver and pay for final delivery to BFPO locations worldwide. This is the mechanism that will continue following release of BFPO postcodes. Those larger companies that wished to tap into the Forces overseas markets have already put in place methods to recognise BFPO addresses and this change will enable, more easily, other organisations to do the same.

Q5. How will this improve access to mortgages and credit cards?
A5. Banking and credit services utilise UK postcodes to map an individual’s location and generate a profile. The use of UK style, non geographic, BF postcodes will provide details of an address, albeit multi occupancy, in a recognisable format.

Q6. Have the changes gone live?
A6. The BFPO data within the Postal Address File (PAF) is now available.

Q7. How many companies have signed up to the PAF changes and updated their databases?
A7. This is difficult to gauge but the PAF is currently utilised by in the region of 50,000 organisations.

Q8. Have all the Credit Reference Agencies (CRA) updated their databases to include the new BFPO address data?
A8. The CRAs are now in receipt of updated BFPO address data that they receive within Royal Mail’s Postal Address File. They are continuing to work with the MoD and Royal Mail to ensure that the relevant changes are implemented so that Service personnel can use their BFPO address for credit applications.

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