British bureaucracy: it came, it saw, it founded an empire, it ripped off other people’s stuff and it made Europeans, Asians and Africans alike fill in stupid bloody forms. Not all of our bureaucracy is horrible though. Some of it is magnificent, even, and the National Health Service is one of those magnificent bureaucracies. The attacks on it by American plutocrats who think a government looking after its citizens is socialism (and that socialism is an insult), and the UK’s own traitorous Tory/Liberal Democrat government’s sly attempts to cut our hard-won NHS off at the knees are both the kinds of assault that perversely underline its value. If those selfish, silver spoon arseholes hate it so vehemently and feel threatened by it then it’s got to be a good thing.
For all of its many faults and failures, the NHS even makes an attempt to fit the most disenfranchised and disconnected members of our society into its bureaucratic framework with a view to getting them the free medical treatment that they’re (arguably) morally entitled to and definitely (in the UK, anyway) legally entitled to. How? Pretend postcodes.
A UK postcode has an “inward” portion and an “outward” portion and takes the form ZZ99 3VZ. Inward (ZZ99) tells the Post Office (another of our national services/treasures under sustained and cynical attack) where the item of mail should be generally directed, i.e. the vicinity of the person’s address. This is often the first two letters of the nearest town or city, plus a numerical subdivision that relates to a specific, named place. Outward (3VZ) directs the post deliverer to a particular street or cluster of buildings, finally narrowed down by the building number or name.
Normally when a person goes to a doctor or to a hospital, the postcode related to their place of residence can easily establish their identity when correlated with other information about them. A person who is homeless or in unreliable accommodation doesn’t fit with this kind of bureaucracy, which can potentially lead to the familiar spiral of no address=no job or social services=no money=no address, and so on. The NHS (and other public services) have a solution to this.
That solution is a whole taxonomy of pseudo-postcodes that enable people to be processed by what’s left of Britain’s welfare state, people who in other countries might just slip through the cracks forever as “non-people”. It’s purely for bureaucratic purposes: nobody can visit or send a letter to these places. On the other hand, maybe trying to do so could be some kind of conceptual art project. Call me, galleries.
ZZ99 3VZ means that the person is of no fixed abode. ZZ99 3WZ is subtly different and means “not known”- perhaps a genteel way of indicating that they refuse to disclose the information or are not in a fit state to know. England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales also have their own specific codes for people of unknown or no address, but nonetheless unambiguously residents of those nations.
[Source, also a trove of other NHS data.]
That this is a long-standing (although still scarcely known) thing is proved by the fact that Douglas Adams alludes to it in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, circa 1978. Earth is located in “Galactic Sector ZZ99 Plural Z Alpha.” The book, radio play, and film versions all begin with the humans Arthur Dent and Trillian escaping from their mostly harmless planet just prior to its total destruction in favour of a space bypass. This, of course, makes Trillian and Arthur homeless in an unusually profound sense of the word and therefore residents of the ZZ99 postcode.