11. Documents & Records Retention

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Documents and Records Retention April 2016
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1. Introduction
Information about local council documentation is contained in Chapter 11 of ‘Local
Council Administration’ by Charles Arnold Baker (8th Edition). This Note is intended to
update and supplement that information, with particular reference to the length of time documents should be retained by local councils.
2. Financial Returns and Accounts
Section 11.12 on page 106 of ‘Local Council Administration’ (8th Edition) requires
clarification. Parish Councils, committees of Parish Councils (including joint committees)
and parish meetings of Parishes without a separate Parish Council (namely bodies
caught by s.2 and schedule 2 of the Audit Commission Act 1998) are required to make
annual returns pursuant to regulations issued under s.27 Audit Commission Act 1998
rather than pursuant to s.168 Local Government Act 1972.
3. Retention of Documents
Attached is an Annex indicating the appropriate minimum retention periods for audit and other reasons. There is a clear need to retain documentation for audit purposes, staff
management, tax liabilities, and the eventuality of legal disputes and legal proceedings
(explained in paragraphs 7-11 below and in the attached Annex). Subject to the
aforementioned reasons for retaining documents, and as a basic starting point, papers
and records may be destroyed if they are no longer of use or relevant. If in doubt,
document(s) should be retained until proper advice has been received.
4. Planning Papers
[a] Where planning permission is granted, the planning application, any plans and the
decision letter should normally be retained until the development has been
completed so that, if required, the council can check that the development
proceeds in accordance with the terms and conditions of the permission. Where
planning permission is granted on appeal, a copy of the appeal decision should
also be retained likewise. It may sometimes be sensible to retain an appeal
decision indefinitely because of wider implications (e.g. the decision may set a
precedent for other developments in the locality).
[b] Where planning permission is refused, the papers should be retained until the
period within which an appeal can be made has expired. If an appeal is made, and
dismissed, the decision letter may, as in (a) above, be worth retaining against
further applications relating to the same site.
[c] Where a substantial number of planning applications are received from the local
planning authority, it is advisable for a council to have an effective referencing and
filing system.
[d] Copies of Structure Plans, Local Plans and similar documents should be retained
as long as they are in force.
5. Insurance policies
All insurance policies should be kept for as long as it is possible
for a claim to be made under them. Irrespective of how long policies and
correspondence are retained, the recommendation is that councils ensure that they
keep a permanent record of insurance company names and policy numbers for all
insured risks. Article 4 of the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Regulations
1998 (SI. 2753) requires local councils, as employers, to retain certificates of insurance
against liability for injury or disease to their employees arising out of their employment
(this insurance is mandatory pursuant to the Employers’ Liability (Compulsory
Insurance) Act 1969) for a period of 40 years from the date on which the insurance is
commenced or renewed.
Documents and Records Retention April 2016
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6. Information from Other Bodies
(e.g. circulars etc. from County Associations, NALC
and other bodies (e.g. principal authorities) too numerous to mention) – such
information should be retained for as long as it is useful and relevant.
7. Magazines and Journals – a council may want to keep its own publications (e.g. news letters).
The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 (the 2003 Act) requires a local council
(and a parish meeting in a parish without a separate parish council) which after 1
February 2004 has published works in print (this includes a pamphlet, magazine or
newspaper, a map, plan, chart or table), to deliver, at its own expense, a copy of them
to the British Library Board (which manages and controls the British Library). The British
Library holds books, periodicals, manuscripts and other publications for reference, study
and information. Printed works as defined by the 2003 Act published by a local council
(or a parish meeting in a parish without a separate parish council) therefore constitute
materials which the British Library holds. There is a separate NALC legal briefing in
respect of the 2003 Act. Journals published by others (e.g local government news
journals and magazines) should be retained as long for as they are useful and relevant.
Correspondence – if related to audit matters, correspondence should be kept for the
appropriate period specified in the Annex hereto. In planning matters, correspondence
should be retained for the same period as suggested for other planning papers. For
other correspondence (unless relating to staff).
8. Documentation Relating to Staff
Should be kept securely and in accordance with the 8 data protection principles contained in the Data Protection Act 1998 . The principles provide that personal data in relation to staff should not be kept for longer than is necessary for the purpose it was held. However even after an employment relationship has ended, a council may need retain and access staff records for former staff for the purpose of giving references, payment of tax, national insurance contributions and pensions, and in respect of any related legal claims made against the council. The time limits within which a claim (and any appeal) may be lodged against an employer at an employment tribunal are set out in the legislation that contains the employment right in question or failing that by reference to the Limitation Act 1980 (as amended) considered in paragraph 7 below. The time for lodging a claim at an employment tribunal is usually measured from the date that the employment relationship ended or the date of the act complained of. Subject to where the Limitation Act 1980 applies, the most common time limit for lodging a claim at an employment tribunal is 3 months (for example a claim for unfair dismissal must, by virtue of s.111 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, be lodged at an employment tribunal within 3 months of the date of the termination of the employment contract) although 6 months applies in redundancy and equal pay claims.
9. Local/Historical Information
The Local Government (Records) Act 1962 provides that parish councils (and parish meetings in parishes without a separate parish council) may acquire records of local interest and accept gifts or records of general and local interest in order to promote the use of such records (defined as materials in written or other form setting out facts or events or otherwise recording information).
Documents and Records Retention April 2016
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10. Arrangements for the Deposit, Storage and Management of Documents
In accordance with s. 227 of the Local Government Act 1972 (the 1972 Act), if a parish
council requests the district council in which the parish is situated or a community
council in Wales requests the county or county borough council in which the community is situated, the relevant principal authority must provide proper depositories for all the specified papers (defined as public books, writings, council papers and all documents directed by law to be kept) belonging to the parish or community for which there is no other provision. (In the case of a parish or community not having a separate parish or community council, the council of the district in which the parish, or the county or county borough council in which the community is situated must provide proper depositories for all the specified papers under the control of the parish meeting or belonging to the community but in England only with the consent of the parish meeting). Documents of local and or historical importance, if not retained and stored by a local council, with or without reliance on the provisions of s.227 of 1972 Act, should be offered first to the county record office if there is one. The county archivist there will always be willing to advise on which records should be permanently preserved.
Local councils (and parish meetings of parishes without a separate parish council) are
advised to implement system(s) of paper and electronic records management (including those records retained for audit purposes reviewed annually by a council’s internal auditor). Such systems should ensure the storage and security of, access to and
disposal of both paper and electronic records. It is essential that any such system(s)
(and policies) relating to record management includes an annual review of the records
themselves and also the effectiveness of such systems(s) (and policies).
11. Retention of Documents for Legal Purposes
Most legal proceedings are governed by the Limitation Act 1980 (as amended). The
1980 Act provides that legal claims may not be commenced after a specified period.
The specified period varies, depending on the type of claim in question. The table
below sets out the limitation periods for the different categories of claim. The reference
to ‘category’ in the table refers to claims brought in respect of that category.
12. Category Limitation Period
Negligence (and other ‘Torts’) 6 years
Defamation 1 year
Contract 6 years
Leases 12 years
Sums recoverable by statute 6 years
Personal Injury 3 years
To Recover Land 12 years
Rent 6 years
Breach of Trust None
Where the limitation periods above are longer than other periods specified in this Note,
the documentation should be kept for the longer period specified. Some types of legal
proceedings may fall within two or more categories. Rent arrears, for example, could
fall within the following three categories (depending on the circumstances):
o contract (6 years) – because all tenancies and leases are contracts;
o leases (12 years) – if the arrears are due under a lease; and
o rent (6 years) – if the arrears are due under a tenancy (and not a lease).
o In these circumstances, NALC advises that the relevant documentation should be kept
o for the longest of the three limitation periods.
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The same principles apply in the case of debts. If the debt arises under a simple
contract the limitation period will be 6 years but if the debt arises under a lease the
limitation period will be 12 years (unless it relates to rent in which case the limitation
period will be 6 years). A final complication relates to sums due under leases which are
‘reserved as rent’. Sometimes, for example, service charges are expressed to be
payable as ‘additional rent’. The limitation period for service charges in those
circumstances will be 6 years – even though the sums are due under a lease.
As there is no limitation period in respect of trusts, councils are advised that they should
never destroy trust deeds and schemes and other similar documentation.
For the sake of completeness it should be noted that some limitation periods can be
extended. Examples include:
o where individuals first become aware of damage caused at a later date (e.g. in the case of personal injury);
o where damage is latent (e.g. to a building);
o where a person suffers from a mental incapacity;
o where there has been a mistake or where one party has defrauded another or concealed facts.
In such circumstances individual councils will need to weigh (i) the costs of storing
relevant documents and (ii) the risks of:
o claims being made;
o the value of the claims; and
o the inability to defend any claims made should relevant documentation be
o destroyed.
It hardly needs to be said that the higher the value of a contract or the higher the risk or
value of a claim being made, the more likely it is that the greater expense/
inconvenience of storing documents for longer periods can be justified. Councils should
also confirm the precise wording of any insurance policies they have to ensure that they comply with any terms they contain in respect of the retention of documents and
13. Data Protection and Freedom of Information Considerations
In November 2002, the Lord Chancellor issued a Code of Practice pursuant to section
46 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Code, which is called the ‘Lord
Chancellor’s Code of Practice on the Management of Records’ applies to public
authorities and also bodies which are subject to the Public Records Act 1958. Although
local councils are not subject to the 1958 Act, they should familiarise themselves with
the contents of the Code of Practice so they can formulate their own system of records