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What is records management?

Records management is a system used to manage digital or paper documents from their creation or receipt, through to their use, storage and disposal.

Records are information you have created or received and need to preserve as evidence of business transactions or for legal obligations. This could be anything from meeting minutes and correspondence to financial records and legal contracts. The records can be in digital or paper format.

The purpose of records management is to ensure you maintain and have access to documents which may be needed for business processes, legal requirements or audits.

Why records management is important

  • It ensures that:
    • important documents are stored correctly and can be easily found when needed
    • documents that are no longer needed are disposed of correctly and in a way that adheres to company and legal guidelines
    • your business complies with health and safety legislation—for example, correctly documenting any accidents that happen in the workplace
  • It protects your staff and business by providing evidence should legal matters arise
  • It reduces costs and inefficiency as any documents that aren’t needed can be destroyed rather than being stored unnecessarily

Records management best practice guide

The Information Commissioner’s Office Section 46 Code of Practice covers records management and includes recommendations for good practice for managing records.

Although these guidelines apply to public authorities (and other bodies that are subject to the Public Records Act 1958 or the Public Records2 Act (Northern Ireland) 1923), they are a useful place to start when implementing best practice guidelines for your company.

Best practice recommendations for records management

  1. Recognise the importance of records management and have arrangements in place that support this
  2. Have a records management policy in place
  3. Ensure you maintain records needed for business, regulatory, legal and accountability purposes
  4. Keep your records in an easy to navigate system so you can store and retrieve them when needed
  5. Know what records you have and where you keep them, and ensure that you store them for as long as they are required
  6. Guarantee that record storage and access is secure
  7. Define how long you should keep records and when and why you should dispose of them
  8. Ensure records shared with other companies or held on other company premises are managed correctly and in accordance with your records management policy
  9. Regularly monitor your compliance with best practice

Creating your records management policy

A records management policy outlines exactly what your company will need to do to adhere to best practice guidelines.

Although there are overarching sections that will appear in most companies’ policies (such as what the scope of the policy is and responsibilities of staff) the actual processes for dealing with records and documents will vary from company to company.

A records management policy serves a number of purposes:

Purpose

Business benefit

Demonstrates competence

Employees and stakeholders can see your company values proper record management.

Demonstrates intentions

Outlines the purpose of your company’s record management policy.

Outlines staff responsibilities

Shows what you expect of your staff when dealing with records and documents. Defines who can have access to which records and who is responsible for records management in the organisation.

Outlines process

Clearly describes who will deal with records throughout their lifecycle – from receipt or creation to storage and disposal.

Demonstrate coherence

By identifying and making connections to related policies, such as your data protection policy, your staff and stakeholders will have a clear picture of what your company’s policies cover and how they relate to each other.

How to write a records management policy

The National Archives website has detailed advice on creating a records management policy. The below is an overview of what you will need to do before you create your policy:

  1. Gain support from senior management for creating a policy
  2. Review the current records management policy
  3. Speak to staff about how they currently deal with records management and discuss concerns and suggestions
  4. Find out your company’s current legal and regulatory obligations for records management
  5. Review existing policies from other areas of your business, such as data protection, health and safety, and risk management to see how the records management policy will relate to these

Once you have created your policy, you will need to review and update it regularly.

Tips for choosing a secure records management system

A records management policy is only part of the management process. The next step is to choose how:

  • you will store the documents you need to keep
  • people will access the documents
  • you will securely dispose of documents you no longer need

Best practice states that “Authorities should keep their records in systems that enable records to be stored and retrieved as necessary” but the system you choose is down to the requirements of your business.

As a minimum, for records that are used regularly, a system should:

Check list

 

Be easy to understand

 

Make it quick and easy to retrieve information

 

Make records management processes routine

 

Be classified and indexed to bring together related records

 

Contain metadata that accurately describes the records

 

Protect records from unauthorised copying, moving or deleting

 

Have secure access

 

Enable a clear audit trail to be produced when records have been used, altered or destroyed

 

When records are no longer in regular use, they can be removed from your day-to-day system to secure, off-site locations. This is often a more economical choice, in terms of costs and space, than storing these documents on-site.

Your records management policy should contain information for how and when documents are transferred to off-site storage or destroyed.

Companies such as Russell Richardson specialise in secure document archiving, storage and records management, and customers are given access to their own secure portal to have complete control over records, including tracking, retrieving and destroying records.

To find out how our experts can help your business call the team today on 0800 294 6552 or contact us here.

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