(The information within this article should not be relied upon and neither Reynold Leming nor Mint Business Solutions Ltd accept any liability for any loss or damage caused, arising directly or indirectly in connection with reliance on the contents of this web site).
You may be keeping more records than you need to; alternatively you may be keeping records you shouldn't! (And, of course, you may be destroying records you are obliged to keep). Records need to be retained not only for the purposes of business use, but also to meet legal and regulatory obligations. Retention of records also help avoid legal sanction or spoilation claims if they become subject to discovery. Once these periods have elapsed – and subject to the records not being required for pending or actual litigation or audit etc, or for business purposes – you could consider their controlled destruction. You may also find that your files could be "weeded" of redundant information not subject to a retention requirement.
Of key importance is the creation, maintenance and application of a retention schedule, based upon the stipulations of your industry-specific regulator and legislation such as:
- The Companies Act
- Inland Revenue
- HM Customs & Excise
- The Limitations Act
- Sick Pay and Maternity Pay Regulations
- Fire Precautions Regulations
- Health & Safety at Work Act
- The Taxes Management Act
- The Disability Discrimination Act
- The Race Relations Act
- The Sex Discrimination Acts
- The Data Protection Act
We would be delighted to discuss the creation of retention schedules with you.
If you contract an offsite storage provider, they may well offer advice and systems in this area.
Remember that the retention schedule must apply to electronically generated as well as paper records.
In the US, enacted in response to financial scandals at Enron Corp., Global Crossing Ltd. and WorldCom Inc. etc., the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 explicitly addresses retention and destruction of certain records. Based upon the Act, original records, and any copies that may exist, which may be needed for a pending or actual audit, investigation or litigation, should not be destroyed. Basel II Accord for G10 countries seeks to ensure that banks evaluate and measure operational risk, including the risk resulting from possessing poor levels of business documentation. These, and many other measures, such as the "know your Customer" money laundering regulations, demonstrate the trend for tougher legal and regulatory frameworks, requiring (especially financial organisations) to maintain clear evidential audit trails, including the retention of documentary records whose integrity and authenticity is preserved.
Equally, certain records, for reasons of Data Protection, should not be retained.
A retention schedule should be maintained, with records subject to formal review and appraisal at the end of the retention period as to whether they should be preserved or destroyed. A useful list of retention schedules is available via the UK National Archives web site. Exception processes should be in place for records that are involved in litigation, criminal, or civil investigation, audit, or continuing administrative use.
Please also see our complementary information resource, The Document Site
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