Formulating a Document Retention Policy Back
Over the long-term document archiving has the potentially to become a relatively expensive activity, particularly when you do not have in place a sound document retention policy. For this reason, you are encouraged to adopt a strict document retention policy. A failure to apply a document retention policy could mean expenses relating to document archiving is doubled or even tripled. In this post, we outline tips, tricks and hints for reducing the amount of documentation that makes its way into storage and also associated archiving costs. By the time you have finished reading this post, you will be armed with the requisite knowledge needed to reduce your archiving bill.
Without further ado, we now list three basic guidelines for reducing the number of documents you choose to achieve:
#1. Determine documents that absolutely must stay
Review each document category that your business carries. The documents you absolutely must retain often come down to industry specific legislation, business regulations and good old common sense. You must carry out a thorough analysis of each of your core business functions and then decide the specific documents you must retain in order for your business to carry on functioning smoothly. Whilst you undergo this activity it is vital you gain senior management’s support.
It is also vital that you correctly research legislation and regulations that influence how long you must retain documents they apply to. For instance, HMRC requires all businesses to retain financial documents for a period between four and six years. Likewise, the Health and Safety Executive requires all businesses to retain details of workplace accidents for a similar period of time.
Accountants, solicitors and other professionals are typically required to retain client papers for around seven years. This is a year longer than the limitation period for bringing a claim for professional negligence. Institutions such as schools and universities may need to retain student records for much longer, typically up to fifty years! If your document retention policy does not reflect these regulations then you risk receiving a hefty fine for non-compliance.
Examples of documents most businesses must retain include:
- Tax returns
- Invoice and sales receipts
- Documents relating to public liability insurance
- Documents sent from HMRC and Companies House
- Bank statements and cheque stubs
#2. Determine documents that could go
Some documents will sit in a sort of grey area when it comes to deciding on whether they must stay or go. Many documents that seem vital at first glance quickly seem expendable on closer inspection. We encourage you to make use of a professional document shredding service for all documents you decide must go.
During this process, it is advisable for you to conduct interviews with heads of each department in your business or organisation. By doing so, you will gain a better appreciation of each document that is considered vital or expendable. This interviewing stage will help form the basis of your document retention policy.
#3. Determine documents than absolutely must go
If a document or class of document does not fall into either of the above two categories then you must purge the document from your records. This typically means document shredding. Purging non-essential documents will ensure document archiving expenses are not inflated. If you store documents on-site then you will also free up valuable storage space to then re-use for alternative purposes.
That's it for now!
I hope you enjoyed this post on devising a document retention policy for your business or organisation. My name is Adam White and I am a reprographics manager at Secure Storage Services in Liverpool. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.
- HMRC’s advice on archiving trade documents
- The Law Society’s practice note on the retention of wills
- The National Archives Guide to Document Management