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Document Retention – All you need to know

Document Retention

In the dynamic landscape of UK business operations, adherence to robust document retention practices is not just a best practice—it’s a legal necessity. With the confluence of the Data Protection Act (DPA)/GDPR, Freedom of Information Act, and the Limitations Act 1980, businesses face a complex regulatory environment that demands meticulous attention to document management.

Proper records management is considered a best practice for any organisation, while it’s mandatory in highly regulated industries. The data should be kept in a secure, reliable, and non-editable format, and the methods of record-keeping need to allow quick access, search, and retrieval of digital documents for compliance and legal purposes.

At ADS Document Storage + Retrieval we recognise the significance of proper records management. Whether you’re navigating regulatory obligation or aiming for streamlined organisation we’ve created this guidance to help organisations understand the principles of keeping and managing records. It introduces key points you need to consider when developing or reviewing your retention and storage policy and signposts to further information.

Navigating Legal Frameworks

Another significant piece of legislation is the Limitations Act 1980: Most documents a business will create are covered by Section 5 of the Limitations Act 1980 and should be kept for six years after they expire. Certain types of documents carry unique retention periods, and it’s crucial for organisations to conduct the required research to ensure full compliance.

Key file retention policies for UK companies:

Personal Data

Records containing personal data must be held with full user consent and in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018. This means that personal data should be kept for as long as it is needed for its stated purpose. Once the data has served its purpose, it should be deleted. The GDPR does not set specific time limits for different types of data, so it is up to the organisation to justify the retention period based on its processing purposes.

To determine the appropriate retention period for personal data under the GDPR, organisations should consider the purpose for which the data is being processed.

Here are some key points to consider when determining the appropriate retention period for personal data under the GDPR:

  1. Data Retention Documentation: Organisations are required to document the processing and activities that outline the data life cycle, including details of the retention period
  2. Purpose of Data: Understanding the specific purposes for which the data is being processed is crucial in determining the appropriate retention period. Different applications and purposes may have different retention periods
  3. Regular Assessment: It is important to regularly assess data stores and delete unnecessary information. Data should be accurate and kept up-to-date
  4. Anonymisation and Deletion: Anonymising data or putting it “beyond use” can allow for longer retention periods. However, once the data is no longer needed, it should be deleted from live and backup systems
  5. Public Interest and Research: Data collected for public interest archiving, scientific or historical research, or statistical purposes may be stored indefinitely, provided appropriate technical and organizational safeguards are in place


Schools typically retain student records for a certain period after the student leaves the school. However, the specific retention periods may vary depending on the nature of the records. For example, academic records might be kept for a different period than medical records or attendance records.

In England, Scotland and Wales, Child Protection files should be kept until the child is 25 (this is 7 years after they reach the school leaving age) (Information and Records Management Society (IRMS), 2019).

Guidance for schools in the UK generally follows guidelines set out by relevant authorities such as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Department for Education. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also plays a significant role in shaping data protection practices.

HR / Employee Records

Employee-related records, spanning payroll, contracts, and training records, warrant retention for a minimum of three years post-employment. Accident reports should be kept for at least four years, with a recommended six-year retention due to the Limitations Act.


Private companies adhere to a three-year statutory retention period, whereas public limited companies extend this to six years. HMRC records follow a default retention of 6 years plus the current year, justified only for statutory, regulatory, legal, or security reasons.


Medical records pose unique challenges, with guidelines from the BMA and NHS. GP records in England and Wales are retained for a minimum of 10 years post-death, while general health and care records persist for eight years after the last treatment.

Documents regarding the handling of hazardous materials

Documents concerning hazardous materials must be stored for 40 years from the last entry date, as per statutory requirements.

Storage Solutions for the Future

In summary, UK companies are required to retain various types of records for specific periods, such as tax records for a minimum of six years, and HR documents for longer periods. It’s essential for businesses to be aware of these legal requirements and develop document retention policies to ensure compliance.

Overflowing piles of paperwork.

Keeping accurate records and keeping hold of your records for the required period can be challenging. As businesses expand, the challenge of managing growing paperwork becomes apparent. ADS Document Storage + Retrieval understands the strain and offers secure storage solutions with swift digital and document retrieval. Our gated, secure premises ensure your records are preserved for the future, with easy access whenever needed.

Please contact us today to learn more about how we can keep your business documents safe and secure.

* Please note that while this guide provides valuable insights, it does not constitute legal advice, and the information is accurate as of the time of writing.

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