You can find this retention-related blog post originally on filerskeepers blog here which I wrote for them.

In today’s digital age, businesses and organizations generate an unprecedented amount of data and records daily. From emails and financial documents to customer information and project files; the accumulation of records can quickly become overwhelming if not properly managed. This is where records management retention periods come into play. They’re a critical aspect of maintaining order, compliance, and efficient operations within an organization.

Understanding Retention Periods

The organization establishes records management retention periods based on legal, regulatory, operational, and historical considerations. These periods determine the predetermined duration for which records should be retained before either destroying or archiving them. They ensure that organizations maintain a balanced approach to record-keeping. A well-defined retention period helps organizations stay organized, comply with relevant laws, and protect sensitive information.

Breaking it down

Retention periods are split into multiple parts:

Last action/entry + 7 financial years

We know this part as a trigger. This is what starts the ‘clock ticking’. Much like a gun, you can’t just provide a bullet and expect it to fire. You need a trigger that starts the process. The last action/entry is a common trigger in lieu of there being any other reason to start retention. Anything connected to a date can serve as a trigger. This includes birth, death, closure, acceptance, or any other adjective that is can define a point in time. Date of Death, Date of Birth, Date of Acceptance, Current year, all plus 7 years will all have different end dates.

Last action/entry + 7 financial years.

People generally think of the number as the non-complicated part. Legislation surrounding financial engagements typically drives a plus 7, but this can change depending on the trigger used, as mentioned above. That said, if legislation is unclear, it can be difficult to define the number of years to keep a record.

Last action/entry + 7 financial years.

A year is not just a year. In a records management world, a year can be extended to multiple types. The four key ones being Calendar, Financial, Academic and Business:.

  • Calendar runs from January to December
  • – Financial runs from April to March
  • – Academic runs the school year which is generally September to August (despite the school holidays)
  • – Business runs the financial year from which the company was started e.g. August to July

Last action/entry + 7 financial years

Years is the most common choice here. However, we do have other options right down to seconds, days, months. We can also use something like ‘attempts’ or ‘views’

Retention Influencing Factors

Several factors influence the determination of records management retention periods, and they were mentioned above.

Legal and Regulatory Requirements:

Different industries and jurisdictions have varying legal and regulatory obligations regarding record retention. Laws like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can influence the duration for which certain records should be kept or shouldn’t be kept.

Legislation does not necessarily state the retention period, so you’ll need to use more brain power to make a decision.Taking GDPR as an example:

By virtue of Schedule 1, Part 1(5);  
“Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.”

General data protection regulation 2016

Business Need: 

You may need to retain records that serve an ongoing operational purpose, such as contracts, agreements, and employee records, for the duration of their relevance. This helps organizations manage relationships, fulfil obligations, and address potential disputes. When the retention period expires, you need to review records before you destroy them for the reasons just listed. You need to be consider whether the records have the potential to serve a purpose.

Historical and Research Value: 

Some records possess historical or research value that extends beyond their immediate operational use. These records might include corporate archives, manuscripts, and other documents that provide insights into an organization’s evolution over time.

Litigation and Legal Hold: 

During legal proceedings or investigations, organizations may need to place a legal hold on certain records, suspending their regular retention schedule until the matter is resolved. If someone is suing you, the records may come back into action, so it would make no sense to destroy them. Moreover, if you have a retention that expires but a Freedom of Information request has come into the business, then you legally must hold it for disclosure regardless of the retention period. Getting rid of records regularly that are no longer required is good practice, resulting in a reduction in the number of records to disclose.


Records management retention periods play a pivotal role in maintaining order, compliance, and efficiency within organizations. By understanding the legal, operational, and historical considerations that influence retention periods, businesses can balance the need for record-keeping with the imperative of staying compliant and organized. As industries continue to evolve and generate more data, mastering the art of records management becomes an essential skill for any successful organization.

Stay tuned for more blogs on this topic.

Retention Demystification

One thought on “Retention Demystification

  • 11/03/2024 at 3:32 pm

    Great blog! Shall have to go look at Filerskeepers now to see what’s what!

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