Understanding retention schedules

Retention schedules are a useful tool. They help us to know what we need to keep, and what we can destroy. They help us find who holds information. They ensure that the University has a proper record of its business. This pages helps you understand more about what retention schedules are, why we need them, and how to use them. If this page doesn't answer your question then please contact Information Assurance Manager.

What is a retention schedule?

A retention schedule is a list of the minimum records we need to keep, along with the period they need to be kept for. Schedules are based on the content of the document, not its format – they apply equally to paper and electronic documents. The older retention schedules have a policy and a procedure attached to them. Newer schedules have a good practice note.

Why we need to keep documents

There are four main reasons for keeping things.

The law

In some instances there is a law which specifies how long something should be kept for. This is particularly true where matters of health and safety are concerned, but can also apply to contracts, expenditure and immigration. Where there isn’t a specific law we often look to the Limitation Act 1980. This is the Act that allows people 6 years after a contract has been broken to take their case to court.

Business continuity

The University needs to have evidence to show that it owns the campus, or that buildings are insured, for example. We need to know who our staff are, and what to pay them. We need to know about our students, our courses and our facilities. There is also business continuity on an individual level. If you left tomorrow do you have records that would allow someone else to step into your role – written procedures, lists of contacts, and so on? In your job there will be things that you don’t do very often and you need to keep older documents to remind you how you do things. You shouldn’t need to keep many of these. You might, for example, have a leaflet that you produce every year for Fresher’s, or an email that you send out at the beginning of each term. You probably want to keep the previous one each time, just to remind you what you did.

Work in progress

There will also be materials you need to keep because you are in the middle of working on it. So notes you’ve taken at a meeting and draft copies of your typed up versions of those notes; emails, letters and notes of meetings about an ongoing investigation; notes, drafts and ideas for a new policy; projects (large and small, formal and informal) you are working on. You’ll probably want to keep most of this while the work is in progress. At the end you may just want to keep a note of the final outcome of the investigation, the final report or policy or approved set of minutes.

Historical interest

When archaeologists uncover the remains of the campuses in 2147 they will be thrilled by everything they find. Every last teaspoon, biro, memory stick, sticky note and whiteboard marker will be a valuable historical artefact. Even an historian writing in 20 years time will be pleased to have any box of scribbled notes. However, the University is a live working organisation, not a museum, and we have to strike a balance between respecting our history and being swamped by it. The library keeps files on the main events in the history of the University. If you have something that appears to be particularly interesting, but which is no longer relevant to your area, consider offering it to the library.

Why we need to dispose of some things


The university is growing. We need space for teaching, for cafes, shops and facilities, for offices and meetings. Every room that is stuffed with paper is a room that can’t be used for people. It’s more comfortable to work in your own office if you’ve not got piles of paper sliding over your desk, a filing cabinet wedged in behind you and boxes of files under your desk. Electronic documents might feel as though they take up no space, but they take up electronic space on servers that have to be bought, maintained, backed up and upgraded, and which use electricity and also take up physical space. Electronic files can be a matter of “out of sight, out of mind” so try to remember that they needed to be weeded out from time to time.


All of us have spent time hunting for things that we know we’ve put somewhere, but just can’t find. And of course if something is badly misfiled (or unfiled, in a pile) it is for all intents and purposes, lost. This might mean having to rewrite something, but it could have worse consequences – not being able to confirm a student’s grades, or that we’ve paid for a service, or who has a pension.

Version control

Have you ever been to a meeting to discuss a document and found that everyone has a different version? Have you ever followed a procedure only to find that half the things it refers to don’t seem to exist any more? Ever rung phone number or visited a website listed on a leaflet only to find the number disconnected or the website has moved? If we make sure we throw out old versions (including drafts) and label new documents with a date, then it helps to avoid these scenarios.

Freedom of information

The Freedom of Information Act gives every one the right to ask for information from the Universityask for information from the Universityask for information from the University. The law gives us just 20 working days to find and send out the information we’re asked for. It’s best if we can find things easily and quickly. Retention schedules also help us to explain to people why we sometimes don’t hold the information they want. The retention schedules can be seen by anyone, so they are a transparent way of showing what we keep, and what we don’t.

Data protection

We’ve already seen that the law tells us we must keep some things. Some laws tell us we mustn’t keep things. In particular the Data Protection Act says we mustn’t keep personal information for longer than is necessary.

If something isn't on the retention schedule

If a document you have isn’t on the retention schedule it means there is probably no legal need or general business continuity need for you to keep it. Schedules focus on what your department, section, centre, school or office needs to keep. They don’t include things you as an individual might feel useful to keep. If something is for your own use, because it’s part of something you’re currently working on, or something that you work on termly or annually and need a reminder of how things went the last time, then that’s fine.

When you’ve finished all you need to keep is the final version of the policy or the minutes. You might want to make a note to remind you of things you left out or said you’d consider for the next review, but you won’t need every email, post it etc kept on file. Even if you feel it would be useful to keep these until the next time you review the work there will probably be some bits that can be thrown away: duplicate documents, scraps of paper, post its, emails that only say “thanks I got this” or “I can’t make this meeting”.

If you think something in your office, department, school or section is a core document and needed for legal or business continuity reason, and it isn’t on the schedule, then please speak to the Information Assurance Manager who will be able to advise and update the schedule if necessary. If you work in an area that doesn’t have a retention schedule then please contact the Information Assurance Manager who can help develop a schedule for you.

Meaning of schedule codes

  • CAY Current Academic Year (October to September)
  • CFY Current Financial Year (August to July)
  • CCY Current Calendar Year (January to December)
  • TofR Termination of Relationship (the point at which someone stops being a student or member of staff)

The numbers refer to the number of years after the current year the records have to be kept for. For example, CAY+6 means until the end of this academic year, and then another six full academic years. So a document created in February 2011 will be kept until the end of the 2010-11 academic year (September 2011), and then a further six full academic years, which means it could be destroyed at the end of September 2017.

Procedure at the end of a retention period

Most things aren’t kept forever. At the end of the retention period they are normally destroyed. Any personal information (information about identifiable living individuals) should be shredded. Anything that is confidential should also be shredded.

Otherwise – think of the environment and recycle. Electronic documents should also be deleted at the end of the retention period. Don’t forget to clear out your recycle bin as deleted documents will stay there until you do so.

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Freedom of Information Team Information is available on request.