Students Staff

Understanding Retention Schedules

What is a retention schedule?

A retention schedule is a list of the minimum records we need to keep, along with the period they need to be kept for (the "retention period"). Schedules are based on the content of the document, not its format – they apply equally to paper and electronic documents.

Why do we need to keep documents?

There are four main reasons for keeping things.

The Law

In some instances there is a law which specifies how long something should be kept for. This is particularly true where matters of health and safety are concerned. We also need to be able to prove that we’ve entered into contracts, bought insurance and so on .

Where there isn’t a specific law we often look to the Limitation Act 1980. This is the Act that allows people 6 years after a contract has been broken to take their case to court.

Business Continuity

The University needs to have evidence to show that it owns the campus, or that buildings are insured, for example. We need to know who our staff are, and what to pay them. We need to know about our students, our courses and our facilities.

There is also business continuity on an individual level. If you left tomorrow do you have records that would allow someone else to step into your role – written procedures, lists of contacts, etc? In your job there will be thing that you don’t do very often and you need to keep older documents to remind you how you do things. You shouldn’t need to keep many of these. You might, for example, have a leaflet that you produce every year for Fresher’s, or an email that you send out at the beginning of each term. You probably want to keep the previous one each time, just to remind you what you did.

Work in progress

There will also be materials you need to keep because you are in the middle of working on it. While a project is ongoing - whether that's writing up notes from a meeting, reviewing a policy, or developing a whole new scheme of work - you may need to keep every scribbled note, e-mail and draft document. Once you have the finished item you will probably be able to throw away most of those working documents. You might want to keep some key items for the next time you review the work.

Historical interest

When archaeologists uncover the remains of the campuses in 2347 they will be thrilled by everything they find. Every last teaspoon, biro, memory stick, sticky note and whiteboard marker will be a valuable historical artefact. Even an historian writing in 20 years time will be pleased to have any box of scribbled notes. However, the University is a live working organisation, not a museum, and we have to strike a balance between respecting our history and being swamped buy it.

The library keeps files on the main events in the history of the University. If you have something that appears to be particularly interesting, but which is no longer relevant to your area, consider offering it to the library.

There are many other reasons why people keep things. These are some I’ve come across. If they sound familiar then you may want to consider going through your files and asking what you really need to keep.

Some of the wrong reasons for hoarding information!

  • Just in case it comes in handy
  • Well, you never know when you might need it
  • I've no idea what to do with this
  • I am too busy for filing and weeding files
  • We've always kept these
  • My predecessor never threw anything away
  • We've got boxes of these so I thought they must be important

Why do we need to throw some things away?

Space

The university is growing. We need space for teaching, for cafes, shops and facilities, for offices and meetings. Every room that is stuffed with paper is a room that can’t be used for people. It’s more comfortable to work in your own office if you’ve not got piles of piper sliding over your desk, a filing cabinet wedged in behind you and boxes of files under your desk.

Electronic documents might feel as though they take up no space, but they take up space on servers that have to be bought, maintained, backed up and upgraded, and which use electricity and also take up physical space. Electronic files can be a matter of “out of sight, out of mind” so try to remember that they needed to be weeded out from time to time, too.

Time

All of us have spent time hunting for things that we know we’ve put somewhere, but just can’t find. And of course if something is badly misfiled (or unfiled, in a pile) it is for all intents and purposes, lost. This might mean having to spend time rewriting something, but it could have worse consequences if we can't prove that we've followed the right procedures, had approval to spend money or that a student has studied here or a member of staff been regraded.

Version control

Have you ever been to a meeting to discuss a document and suddenly found that everyone has a different version? Have you ever followed a procedure only to find that half the things it refers to don’t seem to exist any more? Ever rung phone number of visited a website listed on a leaflet only to find the number disconnected or the website has moved? If we make sure we throw out old versions (including drafts) and label new documents with a date, then it helps to avoid these scenarios.

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information Act gives every one the right to ask for information from the University. The law gives us just 20 working days to find and send out the information we’re asked for. It’s best if we can find things easily. Retention schedules also help us to explain to people why we sometimes don’t hold the information they want. The retentions schedules can be seen by anyone, so they are a transparent way of showing what we keep, and what we don’t.

The Law

We’ve already seen that the law tells us we must keep some things. Some laws tell us we mustn’t keep things. In particular the Data Protection Act says we mustn’t keep personal information for longer than is necessary.

What if something isn’t on the retention schedule?

If a document you have isn’t on the retention schedule it means there is probably no need for you to keep it. The retention schedule will list the items we need for legal reasons and for business continuity.

If something is for your own use, because it’s part of something you’re currently working on, or something that you work on termly or annually and need a reminder of how things went the last time, then that’s fine. When you’ve finished all you need to keep is the final version of the policy or the minutes. You might want to make a note to remind you of things you left out or said you’d consider for the next review, but you won’t need every email, post it etc kept on file. Even if you feel it would be useful to keep these until the next time you review the work there will probably be some bits that can be thrown away: duplicate documents, scraps of paper, post its, emails that only say “thanks I got this” or “I can’t make this meeting”.

If you think something in your office is a core document and needed for legal or business continuity reasons, and it isn’t on the schedule then please speak to the Information Manager who will be able to advise and update the schedule of necessary.

If you work in an area that doesn’t have a retention schedule then please contact the Information Manager.

What do the codes on the schedules mean?

  • CAY Current Academic Year (October to September)
  • CFY Current Financial Year (July to August)
  • CCY Current Calendar Year (January to December)
  • TofR Termination of Relationship – the point at which someone stops being a student or a member of staff

The numbers refer to the number of years after the current year the records have to be kept for. So CAY+6 means until the end of this academic year, and then another six full academic years. So a document created in February 2011 will be kept until the end of the 2010-11 academic year – September 2011, and then a further six full academic years, which means it could be destroyed at the end of September 2017.

What happens at the end of the retention period?

Most things aren’t kept forever. At the end of the retention period they are normally destroyed. Any personal information (information about identifiable living individuals) should be shredded. Anything that is confidential should also be shredded. Otherwise – think of the environment and recycle.

Electronic documents should also be deleted at the end of the retention period. Don’t forget to clear out your recycle bin as deleted documents will stay there until you do so.

Where can I find retention schedules?

There are retention schedules for all of the areas listed below. Other areas should contact the Information Manager for guidance.