A retention schedule is a list of records for which pre-determined destruction dates have been established. One of the principle aims of the records survey is to establish those categories of records for which there is a known disposal date.
The main objective of the retention schedule is to define how long records need to be retained in order to satisfy all operational, legal and regulatory purposes and to help co-ordinate their resulting maintenance, disposal or preservation.
Why is this important?
There is a careful balance which needs to be struck with regards to the retention of records. As we have covered in previous sections, it is important that records are kept for as long as their contents have operational value and for as long as they may be required as evidence of the transactions they document.
However, there are often also compelling reasons not to retain such records for any longer than they are required relating to costs of storage, pressures on physical space and the need to disclose all relevant information you hold in response to an FOI request or legal discovery exercise.
When it comes to records containing personal data there are also legal requirements under Principle 5 of the Data Protection Act which require institutions to not retain personal data for longer than is necessary for the purpose(s) for which it was obtained.
There are also legal requirements governing how institutions and other public bodies should remove the records they wish to legitimately dispose of. According to the s.46 Code of Practice on the management of records which accompanies the Freedom of Information Act:
Each authority should maintain a selection policy which states in broad terms the functions from which records are likely to be selected for permanent preservation and the periods for which other records should be retained.
A records retention schedule represents just such a selection policy.
In consultation with practitioners we have created generic records retention schedules for both the further education and higher education sectors. These schedules are based on a breakdown of the functions and activities performed which are common to the majority of institutions. These underlying ‘functional’ structures, known as business classification schemes, are also freely available and can be reused as the basis for institution-wide filing systems.
It should be noted that both the records retention schedules and the business classification schemes are generic resources designed to apply to as many institutions as possible. As a result they will not be a perfect fit for any institution and will need further work to make them directly applicable to your situation.
Effective management of records, and the scheduled and orderly destruction of those no longer required by the institution can also save it money. This was demonstrated by the University of Oxford operating as one of our impact calculator pilot projects.
How to manage retention
- Consider adopting and tailoring as required the HE and FE retention schedule
- Ensure your retention schedule covers records held in all formats
- Consider retention functionality when selecting or designing IT systems which will create or store records
- Consider how retention issues will be handled if choosing to digitise large volumes of records
- Ensure your retention management not only takes into consideration retention requirements based on the record’s content, but also considers the specific format and media electronic records may be stored in.