Postal counties of the United Kingdom

Postal counties of the United Kingdom

The postal counties of the United Kingdom, now known officially as the former postal counties, were subdivisions of the UK in routine use by the Royal Mail until 1996. The "raison d'être" of the postal county (as opposed to any other kind of county) was to aid the sorting of mail by enabling differentiation between like-sounding post towns. Since 1996 this has been done by using the outward code (first half) of a postcode instead.


In many places the postal counties did not match the counties of the United Kingdom. There were several reasons for this:

Places part of a post town in another county

Firstly, many of the approximately 1,500 post towns straddled county boundaries and the postal addresses of all places in such areas included the postal county of the post town regardless of their actual location.

In a written answer in the House of Lords in 1963, Lord Chesham, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Transport estimated that about 7% of towns and villages with a post office lay in a postal county different to their geographical county. He went to explain that: "Postal addresses are in effect routing instructions for Post Office sorters and, in settling what they should be, the main concern is to ensure a quick and efficient service at reasonable cost. The general aim is to align postal boundaries with those of the counties and where this has not been done it is usually because road and rail communications are such that mail can be got more quickly and efficiently to and from certain villages, et cetera, via a neighbouring county than via the county in which they are situated. Alignment of postal and county boundaries in these instances would mean either a poorer postal service for the villages, et cetera, in question or prohibitively heavy additional costs." [cite web |url= |title=Alignment of postal and county boundaries (HL Deb 15 July 1963 vol 252 c108WA) |accessdate=2008-06-10 |publisher=Hansard |date=1963-07-15 ]

Examples, usually consisting of small villages near to county boundaries, include:


In both Scotland and Wales local government was also reorganised in 1996, such that in some places counties reverted to the traditional names once again (e.g. Pembrokeshire), but in others the post-1974 names were retained (e.g. Powys, Highland). As in England, the formal postal counties are unchanged by Royal Mail.

Amendment for Rutland

After a lengthy and well-organised campaign, [Stamford Mercury, " [ MP wins seven-year postal address battle] ", 5 November 2007.] and despite a code of practice which excludes amendments to former postal counties, the Royal Mail agreed to create a postal county of Rutland in 2007. This was achieved in January 2008 by amending the former postal county for all of the Oakham (LE15) post town and part of the Market Harborough (LE16) post town. [AFD Software - [ Latest PAF Data News] ] In contrast, Seaton Delaval residents had unsuccessfully campaigned in 2004 to be removed from the former postal county of Tyne and Wear.

Flexible addressing policy

Since the Royal Mail's change to postcode-defined circulation, a county no longer forms part of any postal address. As part of a "flexible addressing policy", as long as the post town and postcode is included, users can also add a county, which will be ignored in the sorting process. Some forms continue to include a section for a county and this is sometimes compulsory.

A supplement to the Postcode Address File (which is the definitive source of correct postal addresses), the Alias File, identifies local, colloquial and "postally-not-required" details in addresses that have been added by individuals and organisations. The county record part of the file holds "traditional" (e.g. Gloucestershire), "former postal" (e.g. Avon) and "administrative" (e.g. South Gloucestershire) county data.


External links

* [ Information from Royal Mail about PAF and Alias data]
* [ Some details of postal counties including Scotland]

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