Administrative geography

Administrative geography is a way of dividing the UK’s national geography according to local authority or governmental areas. Used by local and national government to define areas of responsibility, it has grown organically over time and is very complex to try and accommodate the country’s varying constituencies and governmental boundaries. Admin areas are not fixed, and each area is subject to periodic change.

Admin geography is used for census taking and demographic measurement, the creation of electoral constituencies for all levels of government and to help plan service provision in the public, administration and health sectors.

It is normally independent from postcode geography, although some areas resemble their postcode boundaries, which presents challenges in matching up private and public sector geodata.

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Bedroom Standard

A method to calculate the number of bedrooms needed.

  • Two adults living as a couple need a bedroom
  • Single adults over 21 need a room
  • Under 21's can share with a same sex relative
  • Under 10's can share with any other related under 10
  • Under 21's that are unrelated need a bedroom each


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Branches are the second tier in the P² People & Places classification. They break the population down into 44 clusters, including an Unclassified cluster.

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The British Population Survey (BPS)

A survey of household income and shopping habits collected on an ongoing basis by face to face interviews. For more in depth information, see our dedicated blog on the British Population Survey (BPS).


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In data mapping, a catchment is the area which forms the audience or responsibility of an account manager or store. Also known as a “territory” when used by sales teams or regional outlets to define the area which they serve or could reasonably expect customers to travel from.

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The Census is conceived, collected, collated and released by three government offices covering all of the UK.

Office for National Statistics (ONS)
England and Wales

National Records Scotland (NRS)

Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)
Northern Ireland

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A centroid is the central point of a sector defined by weighting criteria. For example, a centroid defined by population density, will shift more towards larger towns or cities and away from open countryside. A centroid is rarely the true geometric centre of an area.

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 A cluster is a group of output areas that share similar characteristics. Produced by Principal Component Analysis.

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Collins Bartholomew

A provider of high quality digital mapping products and printed maps. We use a selection of their maps to populate the rasters/background maps in some of our GIS products. We act as a re seller for their mapping data and products.

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Crow fly distance

A "crow fly" distance is simply a straight line between two points. If you want to impress someone you can describe this as a "Euclidean" distance, which also simply means a straight line between two points, but "crow fly" is more commonly used. In mapping this can be a useful measure, but be wary as in many instances, particularly for journey planning, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to travel in a straight line between two locations. More advanced datasets such as our own TimeTravel travel time and distance data plot distances based on road and junction networks rather than crow fly to give a truer picture of actual distances travelled.

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A household is “deprived” if it is affected in one or more of the following ways:

Any member of the household aged 16-74, who is not a full-time student, is either unemployed or permanently sick.
No member of the household aged 16 to pensionable age has at least five GCSEs (grade A-C) or equivalent AND no member of the household aged 16 to18 is in full-time education. For Scotland, the education level is at least one Standard Grade or equivalent which is a lower level.
Health and disability
Any member of the household has general health “not good” in the year before the Census or has a limiting long-term illness
The household’s accommodation is either overcrowded OR is in a shared dwelling OR does not have sole use of bath/shower and toilet OR has no central heating.

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Fusion Tables

Fusion Tables were a web service provided by Google to turn table data such as CSV files or spreadsheets into a visual format to assist in display, analysis, and decision making. Google announced that this service would be “retired” in December 2019 meaning that users would have to find alternatives. Data exported from Fusion Tables can easily be imported into our own online mapping and data visualisation tool, MapVision.

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Geodemographics is the description of people according to the area where they live, derived from the study of spatial information. Census data, consumer data, and social attitudinal data are common forms of spatial information used to create a geodemographic classification.

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Geographical Information System (GIS)

A GIS is also known as mapping software. It captures, stores, analyses, manages and presents data which is geographically referenced. This enables users to compare their data with demographic and consumer data and visualise trends locally and nationally. Prospex is a desktop GIS produced by Beacon Dodsworth.

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Global Positioning System (GPS)

A satellite-based location and navigation system which uses multiple satellites around the earth to pinpoint an exact location. Most useful to our work are GPS coordinates, which are a universal identifier of a precise location on the earth shown as a series alphanumeric characters. This provides a universal alternative to less exact, or localised location measures, such as postcodes. As such, GPS coordinates are very useful for analysing location data.

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Heat map

Heat maps, or hot-cold maps, are known in a geographical context as choropleth maps. They provide a way of visualising density or total value of attributes in a defined area, such as a postcode area, district, or sector. Heat maps are particularly useful when trying to present numerical data over a larger area or where a point-set map would be overwhelmed by the sheer number of points. A postcode heat map can provide a valuable first step in a complete geographical analysis, pinpointing areas in need of further analysis using tools such as point set maps.

Visit our heat mapping page…

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Highly Qualified

 People are considered to be highly qualified if they have a degree level qualification or its equivalent.

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Income is measured as household income before tax and is broken down into bands:

  • Less than £11,499
  • £11,500 to £17,499
  • £17,500 to £24,499
  • £24,500 to £29,999
  • £30,000 to £39,999
  • £40,000 to £49,999
  • £50,000 to £74,999
  • More than £75,000

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Index values are a way of comparing two proportional values.
The index is the ratio of the two values expressed as a percentage.
Usually less than 90 is considered to be below average and more than 110 is above average.

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Job sectors

Job sectors are based on the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) as used by the ONS and provided in Census data. Variables have been grouped to reflect the nature of UK employment. The service sector has some overlap with the Tourism and Knowledge intensive sectors.

ISIC code A: This covers the exploitation of vegetable and animal resources. This comprises the activities of growing crops, raising animals, harvesting plants and animals from a farm or their natural habitats.
ISIC code C: This is the mechanical, physical or chemical transformation of materials, substances or components into new products. The raw materials used are the products of agriculture, fishing, mining or quarrying.
Wholesale and retail trade, ISIC code G: The wholesale and retail of any type of goods and services incidental to the sale of merchandise, Transport and storage, Accommodation and food service, Information and communication.
Transport and storage, ISIC code H: Activities related to providing passenger or freight transport by rail, pipeline, road or air.
Tourism, ISIC code I: The provision to customers of lodging and/or prepared meals, snacks or beverages for immediate consumption.
Information and communication, ISIC code J: Publishing periodicals and books, recording and broadcasting of Film, TV and Radio, IT services and supply and Telecommunications.
Knowledge Intensive
Information and communication, ISIC code J: Publishing periodicals and books, recording and broadcasting of Film, TV and Radio, IT services and supply and Telecommunications.
Financial and insurance activities, ISIC codes K: Financial services, Inurance and Pension services and associated activities.
Real Estate activities, ISIC code L: Marketing, selling and rental services for land and property.
ISIC code I: The provision to customers of lodging and/or prepared meals, snacks or beverages for immediate consumption.


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Life Stage


A stage or phase in life - such as being single, independent and working, being a parent of young children, or being an 'empty nester' (those whose children have recently left home).

Life-stage is often more relevant and useful for classification purposes than 'hard' demographics such as age. This is because people at the same life-stage generally have far more in common than those simply of the same age.

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Limiting long-term illness

Limiting long-term illness covers any long-term illness, health problem or disability which limits the daily activities or work a person can do.

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The Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF)

The Living Costs and Food survey (LCF) records the spending and cost of living patterns that reflect UK household budgets. For an in-depth description, see our LCF blog post.

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MapPoint was Microsoft’s desktop-based Geographical Information System (GIS). It was officially discontinued in December 2014. Now, after some years, even dedicated legacy users are having to find replacement solutions, as unresolved bugs, old map data, and incompatibility with other software become a major issue. Data exported from MapPoint as CSV or Excel files can easily be imported into either our MapVision or Prospex mapping systems.

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National Records of Scotland (NRS)

NRS produce and collect information about the Scottish population. As well as holding historic records for Scotland, this Non-Ministerial Department of the Scottish Government conduct the Census of Scotland’s population every 10 years.

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These include newspapers such as The Times, The Guardian, The Independent and The Financial Times.
Black Tops
These include newspapers like The Daily Mail and The Daily Express.
These are also known as the red tops, such as The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Star and The Daily Record

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Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)

The main source of Official Statistics and social research on Northern Ireland. It is most notable for conducting the Census of Population in Northern Ireland every 10 years.

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Occupancy Rate

Occupancy Rate is a measure of overcrowding. The rate is calculated by taking the number of bedrooms needed according to the Bedroom Standard from the actual number of bedrooms.

An occupancy rate of 2 - indicates the dwelling has too few bedrooms and is overcrowded.

An occupancy rate of 2 + indicates the house has more bedrooms than required and is not overcrowded.

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Unskilled Manual
These are the workers, apprentices and trainees to skilled workers. This includes jobs like cleaner, porter, construction worker, machinist, mechanical fitter, gardener and warehouse worker.
Skilled Manual
This includes all skilled manual workers and those manual workers with responsibility for other people. This includes jobs like automotive technician, carpenter, electrician, aviation mechanic, plumber, pipefitter and welder.
Other White Collar
This includes jobs such as office workers that do not manage others or retail staff members.
Managerial or Professional
These are people who have professional or higher education qualifications or manage teams of these types of people who have professional or higher education qualifications. This includes jobs like accountant, architect, doctor, lawyer and vet.

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Office for National Statistics (ONS)

The ONS are the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics. Responsible for collecting and publishing statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels. They are most recognized for conducting the census in England and Wales every 10 years, but also produce the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF), the ONS Postcode Directory (NSPD), and National Statistics Postcode Lookup (NSPL).

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Ordnance Survey (OS)

Great Britain’s national mapping agency. It carries out the official surveying of GB, providing accurate and up-to-date geographic data. OS are one of the map providers with whom we work to populate our geographical information systems. We act as a re seller for their mapping data and products. Public sector clients can often benefit from the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), through which OS offer their maps free of charge for public sector use.

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Output Areas (OA's)

Output Areas (OA's) were built from clusters of adjacent unit postcodes. They were designed to have similar population sizes and be as socially homogeneous as possible (based on tenure of household and dwelling type). Most OAs consist entirely of urban postcodes or entirely of rural postcodes, avoiding urban/rural mixes where possible. They are designed to sensibly represent the geographical area that they cover and allow for the comparison of geographical areas in a robust manner. Used in administrative geography, OAs are sometimes further subdivided into Lower Super Output Area (LSOA): with a population below 1,000 people or 400 households, or Middle Super Output Area (MSOA) with population below 5,000 people or 2,000 households.

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Point set

A point set map is a way of illustrating fixed points on a map. The most common type is a postcode point map, where postcode geography is used to define where points sit on a map. However, any location reference can be used to create a point map, including: full or part UK postcodes, Ordnance Survey National Grid Reference or coordinates, latitude and longitude data, or centralised points calculated from administrative geography.

Presenting your data in this way lets you see a range of geographical data at-a-glance and allows for quick reference and data interrogation. Depending on the density of data, points might be styled differently, and be accompanied by labels or a key to demonstrate multiple data attributes. When used as part of a multi-layer geographical analysis, a point set map, is often complemented by one or more heat map layers to show these points in context.

Visit our point mapping page…

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A Greek term meaning “many sides”. In a mapping context, it is a series of points that form a shape and define an area. This can be anything from an abstract shape defining a data boundary, a postcode sector, or even the outline of a country.

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Postcode geography

A way of dividing the UK into smaller areas following Royal Mail's postcode system. This provides several potential layers of detail from wider postcode areas (the initials of a postcode), through to districts (the first half of the code), down to sectors (the second set of numbers) or even individual postcode units. Even though government uses its own system of administrative geography for some purposes, postcode geography still provides the most robust way of looking at the UK population and is used by both private and public sector bodies for geographic analysis, targeting and final delivery of services.

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Principal Component Analysis

Principal component analysis is a procedure for identifying a smaller number of uncorrelated variables, called "principal components", from a large set of data. The goal of principal components analysis is to explain the maximum amount of variance with the fewest number of principal components. Principal component analysis is commonly used in the social sciences, market research, and other industries that use large datasets.

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Profiling is a way of identifying patterns in data (e.g. customer lifestyles) and using these patterns to find similar people in other geographic areas.

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Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA)

The Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) - formerly the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) - is a collective agreement between Ordnance Survey (OS) and the UK government to licence data to public sector bodies. This means that organisations in the public sector can benefit from free map data making geographical analysis projects far more cost effective.

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Rasters are the map images within a Geographic Information System (GIS). Typically they will show geographical features, roads and buildings.

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Retail Prices Index (RPI)

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measures inflation. The change in the cost of buying a 'standard' basket of products is calculated. RPI includes some housing costs like council tax or mortgage interest.

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A postcode sector is a collection of individual postcodes brought together to make a more practical reporting area, small enough to give geographical data but large enough to demonstrate shared trends in an area. See our postcode sector blog for an in-depth look at this.

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Trees are the first tier in the P² People & Places classification. They break the population down into 16 clusters, including an Unclassified cluster. The 16 Trees are further broken down into 44 Branches.

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At each tier of P² People & Places, there is an Unclassified cluster which describes people whose characteristics are too unique for them to fall comfortably into the standard categories. Those who are Unclassified make up 1.9% of the UK population.

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