Document retention and archiving policy

Overview

In the course of carrying out its various functions and activities, Energy Solutions collects information from individuals and external organisations and generates a wide range of data/information which is recorded. These records can take many different forms, such as:

  1. Letters received from third parties
  2. Copy letters which have been sent out
  3. Invoices
  4. Completed application forms
  5. Financial records
  6. Contact lists
  7. Contracts
  8. Email communications and attachments

Many of the above documents can be retained as physical paper records or in electronic form.

Retention of specific documents may be necessary to:

  1. Fulfil statutory or other regulatory requirements.
  2. Evidence events/agreements in the case of disputes.
  3. Meet operational needs.
  4. Ensure the preservation of documents of historic or other value.

The untimely destruction of documents could cause Energy Solutions:

  1. Operational problems.
  2. Difficulty in defending litigious claims.
  3. Reputational damage.
  4. Failure to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Conversely, the permanent retention of all documents is undesirable, and appropriate disposal is to be encouraged for the following reasons:

  1. To avoid unnecessary/excessive use of storage space (electronic or physical).
  2. Indefinite retention of personal data may be unlawful.
  3. Reduction of fire risk (in the case of paper records).
  4. To keep records and office accommodation de-cluttered.

Good practice in records management emphasises the importance of organisations having in place systems for the timely and secure disposal of documents/records that are no longer required for business purposes.

Scope & purpose

The purpose of this policy is to provide a organisation-wide policy framework to govern management decisions on whether a particular document (or set of documents, including electronic versions) should either be:

•      Retained – and if so in what format, and for what period; or

•      Disposed of - and if so when and by what method.

For the avoidance of any doubt, this policy is not concerned with the disposal/retention of unused materials (e.g. stocks of paper, unused forms, duplicated documents)

The retention/disposal protocol

Any decision whether to retain or dispose of a document should be taken in accordance with the retention/disposal protocol. This protocol consists of:

  1. The key disposal/retention considerations criteria checklist, set out in Appendix II. Essentially no document should be disposed of unless all these have been considered in relation to the document.
  2. The Retention Schedules (taken from the Records Management Society) contained in Appendix 2. These provide guidance on recommended and mandatory minimum retention periods for specific classes of documents/records.

Where a retention period has expired in relation to a particular document a review should always be carried out before a final decision is made to dispose of that document. Such reviews need not necessarily be detailed or time consuming.

In the event that a decision is taken to dispose of a particular document or set of documents, then consideration should be given to the method of disposal (see below).

Disposal of documents/records

A separate policy describes Energy Solutions’s policy regarding secure disposal of confidential information.

As guidance however, staff should take into account the following considerations when selecting any method of disposal:

  1. Under no circumstances should paper documents or removable media (CDs, DVDs, discs, etc) containing personal data or confidential information be simply binned or deposited in refuse tips. To do so could result in the unauthorised disclosure of such information to third parties, and render Energy Solutions liable to action under the Data Protection Act. Such documents should be destroyed on site (e.g. by shredding) or placed in “Confidential Waste” refuse bins.
  2. Deletion – the Information Commissioner’s Office has advised that if steps are taken to make data virtually impossible to retrieve, then this will be regarded as equivalent to deletion.
  3. Recycling – wherever practicable disposal should further recycling, in-line with Energy Solutions’s commitment to the environment.

Document retention and the Data Protection Act 1998

Staff should be aware that under the Data Protection Act personal data processed for any purpose must not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose. In other words, retaining documents or records that contain personal data beyond the length of time necessary for the purpose for which that data was obtained is unlawful.

The Data Protection Legislation contains no interpretive provisions on this provision. It is a matter for reasonable judgement and common sense as to how long personal data should be retained.

Clearly, in many instances the retention of personal data will be necessary and thus justified for a significant period of time. In general, provided there is adherence to this Policy, few problems should arise.

 

Version control information

Date last updated:

22/7/2015

Date of next review:

To be confirmed

Document owner / point of contact:

To be confirmed

Last amended by:

To be confirmed

Version number:

2.0

Status:

Live

Appendix I:  Key disposal/retention considerations criteria checklist

1. Has the document/record set been appraised?

As a first step, the nature/contents of any documents or records being considered for disposal should be ascertained. No document(s) should be earmarked or designated for disposal unless this has been done. Insofar as existing documents or records are concerned it follows that the above can only be achieved by inspection. The process may only take a few moments.

Nonetheless it can be a skilled task - depending on the complexity of the document(s) concerned – and should only be undertaken by staff who possess sufficient operational knowledge to enable them to identify the document concerned and its function within Energy Solutions. Any decision to the effect that future documents of a specified description be disposed of on expiry of a specified retention period should be an informed one i.e. taken with a full appreciation and understanding of the nature and function of the document/records.

The above is largely common sense, and hardly needs to be stated. However, if appraisal is inadvertently overlooked or carried out negligently, or by an employee who lacks the necessary background operational knowledge, Energy Solutions runs the risk of important documents being destroyed in error.

2.  Is retention required to fulfil statutory or other regulatory requirements?

There is very little specific legislation that stipulates mandatory retention periods for documents held by Energy Solutions. However, staff should seek advice if they believe that there may be legislation which, either directly or indirectly, imposes minimum retention periods on the documents they are handling. For instance, minimum retention periods for certain financial records may be applicable.

3.  Is retention required to evidence events in the case of dispute?

On rare occasions, Energy Solutions may become involved in disputes with third parties. Such disputes, if not satisfactorily resolved, can result reputational damage and the dissatisfied party potentially bringing legal proceedings against Energy Solutions. Conversely, Energy Solutions may wish to institute legal proceedings against an individual or organisation, e.g. to recover an unpaid debt, or in respect of faulty workmanship.

Where a dispute arises, or litigation has been commenced it is important that Energy Solutions has access to all correspondence and other documentation that is relevant to the matter.

The Limitations Act 1980 specifies time limits for commencing litigation. The starting point therefore, is that the retention period is the length of time that has to elapse before a claim is barred. The majority of potential legal claims are statute barred on the expiry of 6 years. For this reason many organisations consider it prudent to retain files/records for a period of 6 years form the date when the subject matter was completed.

It is important, though, to keep in mind that in the course of Energy Solutions everyday business large masses of document action are generated that serve no purpose after relatively short periods of time. Many documents will relate to completed matters where, realistically, the risk of subsequent litigation or other dispute is minimal, if not non-existent. Long-term retention of such documents is counter productive. Staff should be prepared to carry out a risk analysis, with a view to disposal of such documents within a shorter period of than the 6 years time frame.

4.  Is retention required to meet the operational needs of Energy Solutions?

In some cases retention may be desirable (whether permanent or otherwise) even though no minimum retention period applies or has expired. Staff should be aware of the risk of discarding documents or records that might be useful for future reference purposes (e.g. training), as precedents, or for performance management (performance indicators, benchmarking and comparison exercises). A professional judgement needs to be made as to the usefulness of a particular document.

5. Is retention required because the document or record is of historic interest or intrinsic value?

In most cases this consideration will not be applicable. However, it is possible that some documents/records may be of historic interest.

Where it is suspected that the document falls within this description appropriate enquires should always be made before taking any further action.

Even if the document is of historical or monetary value, disposal rather than retention by Energy Solutions, may well be the appropriate option (e.g. by way of transfer to a third party).

Appendix II:  Suggested retention period for different types of documents

 

Type of record

Suggested retention period

Any information private to any individual

Destroy when no longer required

Bank records

7 years

Company records

Permanent

CVs and job applications not hired

3 months after notification

General email correspondence

24 months unless likely that it will be need to retained for longer

Historical records relating to Energy Solutions

Permanent

Supply Contracts

3 years after contract ends

Customer Correspondence

3 years after contracts end dates

Personnel files

5 years following end of employment

Property records, trust deeds

Permanent

Redundancy records

6 years after redundancy

Sickness/sick pay records

3 years

Software and hardware inventory details

7 years

Tax records - companies

6 years from last accounting period