Records Management Section
The University of Edinburgh Records Management Section

Identifying Retention Periods

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  1. When you ask for a new folder it is added to the retention schedule. New folders will either:
    • Inherit existing retention provisions from the level 3 heading above, or
    • The Central Records Registry (CRR) will email you with a retention suggestion for your folder.
  2. If the inherited retention provisions or the CRR retention suggestion are not suitable, use the procedures below to decide on an appropriate retention period for your folder.

Retention schedule background

  1. The retention schedule tells us how long folders are needed and what should happen to them next.
  2. There are three elements to retention recommendations:
Retention period
The retention period is the length of time that the folder will be kept before the disposal action is implemented. Retention periods are expressed as a number of months or years.
Trigger point
The trigger point is when the retention period begins. For example your answer to ‘How long is this folder needed for future reference?’ might be ‘For one year after graduation’. Graduation is the trigger point in this case. Other examples of trigger points include: ‘closure of folder’; ‘after current academic year’ or ‘creation of folder’.
Disposal action
The disposal action is what happens to the folder at the end of the retention period, i.e. whether it should be destroyed or transferred to the University Archive.
  1. We make retention recommendations at the highest level in the filing scheme as possible. For example all academic appeal case folders have the same retention provisions which cascade from the level 3 heading. The lowest level at which you can set retention provisions is level 4, the folder.

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How to identify retention provisions

  1. Follow the steps below to identify retention periods.

Step A: Identify related folders

  1. Are the records in your folders used in conjunction with or to support information in another folder? If ‘yes’ is the retention period for these folders applicable to yours? In any case, you should ensure that their retention periods are similar.
  2. Are there similar records held anywhere else in the filing scheme? If ‘yes’ are their retention periods applicable to your records?
  3. Do folders already exist under the same higher level heading? If ‘yes’ what is their retention period and is it applicable to your folders?

Step B: For how long do you want to keep the folder?

  1. To decide the retention period for your new folder consider the following questions:
  1. Do the records in the folder duplicate records elsewhere? If ‘yes’ then identify the ‘golden copy’. The duplicates can be destroyed immediately after use or kept for a short period of time for reference purposes.
  2. Is there a continuing need for this information for current business purposes? If ‘yes’ then for how long will it be needed for current business purposes?
  3. Is there any legislation or regulatory requirement governing the length of time you should keep this folder? If ‘yes’ then for how long do the regulations say you must keep the folder?
  4. Are the records in the folder needed for accountability and/or reference? If ‘yes’ then for how long is this likely to be the case?
  1. Express the length of time as number of months or years. Do not use ‘permanent’.

Step C: Decide on a trigger point

  1. Choose a trigger point which the CRR can implement. For example there is no point in saying that records should be kept until an individual dies if we have no reliable way of knowing whether or not they are alive. Instead, choose a trigger point based on the information you have about that individual; in this case 100th birthday might be a suitable trigger point.

Step D: Decide what to do with the folder at the end of the retention period

  1. Do the records have a long-term research value for historical or other purposes? Records with long-term research value should be offered to the University Archivist. See the University Archive’s collection policy and archival selection criteria for details of the types of records that are of interest.
  1. If ‘yes’ then the folder needs to be transferred to the University archives when the retention period ends. Please note that folders transferred to the University Archive will be open to the public 20 years from the date of the last paper on the folder. Contact CRR if this presents any concerns.
  2. If ‘no’ then the folder does not need to be retained for any longer than the period specified and can be destroyed at the end of the retention period.

Author: Jenny Middleton
Version 7, October 2007

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Page last updated: Thursday July 05 2012