Implementation guideline – Principle 5: How long business information should be kept is known

Analyse and document how long to keep business information to meet identified business and community needs.

Recommended actions

5.1 Analyse and document how long business information needs to be kept to meet:

  • operational needs

  • stakeholder needs including rights and entitlements

  • legislative and regulatory obligations

  • community needs, including the need to have access to valuable Australian Government information for research and reuse.

Under the Archives Act 1983 agencies need the permission of the Archives before:

  • destroying valuable business information

  • transferring custody or ownership of business information outside of the Australian Government

  • transferring care of archival value Australian Government business information to the Archives.

This permission is provided in the form of records authorities. The Archives determines which Australian Government information will be transferred to the Archives as part of the national archives' collection.

Knowing the reasons why you keep business information is important in order to meet business and regulatory requirements as well as community needs. In order to identify these reasons you need to analyse how, and within what context, your business operates. This includes the need to retain business information to:

  • support daily and ongoing operational needs and mitigate risk associated with business operations.
  • comply with the requirements of agency-specific legislation, regulations or codes of practice. This is particularly important for businesses which may be highly regulated or scrutinised and subject to audits, appeals or legal action.
  • meet the needs of a variety of internal and external stakeholders. This includes the needs of clients to have evidence of their rights and entitlements, the Australian Government’s need to be able to account to the public and the needs of the general community to have access to the national archives of the Australian Government for research purposes.
The National Archives has provided advice on the material we select for permanent retention in What we keep: Principles for selecting the Australian Government’s national archives.

The Archives provides permission to agencies to keep, destroy or transfer business information by issuing records authorities under section 24 of the Archives Act 1983. Records authorities are developed in collaboration with agencies based on their analysis and documentation of how long business information needs to be kept.

Agencies require the permission of the Archives to transfer business information:

  • to the Archives, if it has been selected to be retained as national archives
  • when there is a transfer of ownership outside of the Australian Government.

As agency business may change over time, records authorities should be reviewed periodically to ensure new business or any changes to how long business information should be kept is covered.

Key resources

5.2 Ensure, as appropriate, that the retention period of business information is known by:

  • staff

  • system designers

  • contractors and outsourced providers.

Australian Government employees are responsible for ensuring business information is retained for the appropriate period. Ensure staff know their information management responsibilities by outlining them in a policy, supported by training. The National Archives has developed an eLearning module Keep it or delete it: making good choices about information which provides general advice about the types of information which can or cannot be destroyed as part of daily work.

When purchasing or designing a system assessing information management functionality is important to ensure it can manage business information for the required retention period. Business information needs to be reliably retained by the system for as long as needed, or be able to be exported to another system if its retention period exceeds the life of the system.

Where a contractor or outsourced service provider is engaged to provide services to or on behalf of the Australian Government, contractual arrangements should specify requirements for the retention and/or destruction of any business information they create or manage. The Archives provides advice to agencies on information management issues related to outsourcing arrangements.

Key resources

5.3 Provide written and other advice to staff on the types of business information without ongoing value which can be routinely destroyed without formal permission from the Archives.Within the Australian Government this is known as destruction in accordance with a normal administrative practice (NAP).

Normal administrative practice (NAP) is a process that allows agencies to destroy certain types of low-value and short-term information in the normal course of business. Business information which can be destroyed as a NAP will vary between agencies depending on business context and associated risks related to the information. Examples of business information that may be covered under NAP include rough working papers, drafts, or reference material. NAP cannot be used to destroy information that is, or should be, covered in a records authority.

Advice on business information that staff can destroy under NAP should be documented in a NAP policy. Staff should be given relevant training and support in the use of NAP. The Archives has written guidelines for developing and implementing a NAP Policy, as well as an example policy template. NAP policies do not need to be authorised by the Archives.

Key resources

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