Document Retention 

Article by Avril James 20.01.15

So what is meant by Document Retention and how do we ensure both printed documents and electronically stored documents are retained for the length of time require and destroyed when that time has passed.  
Retention Period of a document, is the period of time, which a business should keep documents relevant to their businesses.  

There are specific business documents which should be kept such as financial records or legal documents which are relevant to the setting up of the business and its work with other business.  

Some of the information that you use within your business will be subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 and the regulations set down of the use of data. It is important that when using data, you hold about your customers/clients that you use it fairly, accurately and lawfully, and only for a limited time or the specific purpose it was obtained. One way of remembering is that you should treat the data you hold about others in the same way that you would want others to treat the data that they hold on you. There are other legal requirements for specific sensitive information which is kept by doctors etc.    

Retention periods are different for different types of records held by your business, for instance, incorporation documents should be kept permanently (you must never destroy them, so look after them well, some business keep these locked in the safe). Receipts for tax-deductible purchases by an individual taxpayer usually should be kept for three-years. However, receipts, invoices and other paper work relating to business finance matters should be kept for seven years, just in case they are required by HMRC.

When the retention period is over documents should be destroyed this should be done by shredding all documents, destroying tapes, discs etc. Some businesses keep papers and documents for a very long time, when they are really no longer of use, i.e put them in the attic and leave them there. This can be costly to the business who use a storage company to keep their old records. It’s important that you know what documents are being kept, when they need to be destroyed and ensure that this process is completed annually.  

If your business works on projects the Project Information states how long you are able to keep files and papers relevant to that project for. The rules set down in the Project Information should be adhered to otherwise your business could be keeping information illegally. Any projects which are completed under European Laws may need to be kept for a long time such as 20+ years.  

Papers and files, take up a lot of space in an office and once their shelf life is over they should be documented, filed into archive boxes and archived in a storage facility that will keep them safely. Archived materials need to be kept at the right temperatures to ensure that if they are required within the retention period that they are easily accessible, easy to identify and the information can still be read.  

If you need any help with your filing or archiving please contact me at Ask Avril avril@askavril.co.uk