Retaining Records – Part 2

Retaining Records – Part 2

John Truscott is currently contributing a number of one-off articles, although this particular one comes in two parts. This is a continuation of the article in the previous issue on the setting up of a Document Retention Policy.

Last time and this I consider what church documentation we keep and at what point we can destroy or delete it. But I am not aiming to produce a full listing of legal requirements. I am taking more of an overview of the topic to help a church devise a Document Retention Policy.

In the previous article we looked at six areas you might cover in a policy. There is further comment on these under the ‘Document Retention Policy’ heading below.

We then looked more closely at

1 HR records

2 Financial records

This time we go on to look at some other categories. As before these lists given an overview rather than attempting to be complete, so please study the fuller details given in the weblinks listed at the end. This article is not to be read as legal advice.

Legal requirements and best practice

Continuing from the first article:

3  Governance/legal records

Different denominations have specific requirements in this area and this list only gives a general overview. You need to hold:

  • Trust deeds, title deeds and other foundation documents*
  • LEP agreements and pastoral schemes*
  • Official registers of baptisms, marriages and burials*
  • Official registers of CofE banns, confirmations and services*
  • Church membership lists*
  • Church contacts lists
  • Signed copies of Trustee and Church Meetings minutes*
  • Copies of meeting papers and committee records
  • Major agreements of historical importance*
  • Investment ledgers and fixed asset registers*
  • Policies

Legislation here includes the Charities Act, Data Protection Act, Limitations Act 1980 and denominational requirements. All starred items need to be kept permanently and moved to your relevant record office but check denominational requirements. Signed copies of Trustee and Church Meeting minutes are only legally required to be kept for ten years from the date of the meeting but I would recommend permanent retention in archive and most denominations insist on this. Other meeting papers should be kept for five years.

Policies need to be held for three years after lapse. Church of England churches should access ‘Keep or bin…?’ (see below) for greater detail on what is possible to keep and what to delete.

4  Property and health and safety records

This is an area where different denominations have different requirements so check with yours for fuller details. The following is only an outline.

  • Title deeds*
  • Building design drawings, records of major work and redevelopments*
  • Quinquennial inspection reports*
  • Leases* and licences
  • Lettings agreements
  • Asbestos / hazardous substance register/disposal*
  • Burial registers and records of graveyards with plans*
  • Churchyard maintenance including graves and memorials*~
  • Full details of all major works to churchyard*~
  • Property logs or equivalents*
  • Terrier, inventory and logbook showing details of alterations, repairs and objects*~
  • Faculties and papers, plans, drawings, etc.*~
  • Plans etc. for major alterations, etc. *~
  • Tenders, etc. for minor works
  • Organ works*
  • PRS licences etc.
  • Insurance policies and certificates for public liability*
  • Public liability policies*
  • Employers’ liability
  • Other policies and claims correspondence
  • Health and Safety inspections
  • Accident books
  • Similar details for parsonage house or manse

Items marked ~ relate to Church of England churches.

Items starred should be kept in archive permanently. Where property is sold, it is advisable to keep copies of title documents and design drawings etc. for a further six years but then dispose of them. But for leases, hold for 12 years after the lease expires.

For new developments, you need to hold documentation for at least 13 years for actions against contractors.

Papers relating to minor works on buildings should be kept for six years from last action, but organ specifications need to be archived. Recording and other licences should be kept for five years from last action.

Insurance policies should be kept for 40 years (standard commercial practice) but claims correspondence for three years from the last action. Other policies and claims correspondence normally held for six years after lapse or last action if longer.

Leases are normally kept for six years from the end of the agreement but then archived and lettings agreements for one year. Quinquennial inspection reports should be kept permanently.

Accident books should be retained for three years from the final incident or the end of any investigation if later, but if a child is involved details need to be kept until they attain the age of 21 plus three more years. However the CofE has 20 years from the date of incident, or the date when a child reaches 21. HSE inspection records should be held for three years.

5  Safeguarding records

This is a sensitive area of record keeping where retention is now in response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). Under the Inquiries Act churches in England and Wales have to retain all documents relating to child protection and this over-rides retention requirements under the Data Protection Act. Safeguarding records include

  • Allegations and concerns
  • Risk assessments
  • Employment
  • Discipline
  • Safeguarding leadership.

It is not possible in a short overview article to go into any detail and this is not a legal document. But, briefly:

  • All safeguarding records of incidents or concerns for children or adults, including risk assessments, with details of how allegations are handled and actions taken with eventual outcomes – 75# years after the last contact with the individual concerned.
  • For safeguarding records of incidents relating to a church officer paid or unpaid – 75# years after employment ceases.
  • For records of any children’s activities and related risk assessments – 75# years after the activity ceases.
  • For CofE clergy personnel records where there are no safeguarding allegations – under consideration to increase from 20 years.
  • For CofE clergy personnel records where there are allegations and investigations – under consideration to increase from 50 years.
  • Personnel records for lay workers whose role involves contact with children or vulnerable adults – 75 years after employment.
  • DBS disclosures for vetting for employment – six months after recruitment decision.

There are further requirements affecting clergy.

# CofE has 70 or 50 years here.

6  Administrative records

The issue here is usefulness rather than legal requirement. Here are a few examples.

  • Church guides – hold one copy in archive whenever a new version is produced.
  • Church magazine, news-sheets – hold one copy in archive as each new one is produced. Some would say hold for five years then destroy. These can however be helpful as a permanent history of the church.
  • Lists of home groups – for as long as useful.
  • Annual website snapshots – a valuable source of church history.
  • Church profiles – five years from last action, although these are a valuable source of historical detail for both church and its area so might better be permanent.
  • General correspondence and emails – each denomination or network may offer their own advice on correspondence that does not fall into other categories already listed. This seems to vary from one year to seven, or left as simply ‘as long as is relevant’.

A Document Retention Policy

Part 1 of this article covered issues to include in a Document Retention Policy. Here are points to bear in mind under each of the six headings suggested there as you prepare your policy.

1 Record management for both immediate access records and archives

You might like to include some of the material listed in the previous article under this heading, to underline the important of record management and the place it plays in operations and administration. It is better to write your own introduction than simply copying what your own denomination has from the sample weblinks given below.

2 Legal retention and deletion requirements that trump local needs

It is important to understand that your Trustees needs to be compliant with national legislation or denominational requirements. Your policy should be designed to avoid the danger of someone simply deciding to weed the files and discarding documents that you are required to hold for a longer period or permanently.

3 Security for hard copy and electronic records

Both paper records and electronic files need to be kept secure. Paper records can be ruined by a damp atmosphere or being left unsorted in boxes which no one knows about. Electronic files can be corrupted or lost so it is vital to ensure they are protected from viruses and from hacking and backed up in a different medium. If simply kept on someone’s laptop (which has the danger of being left in a public place) and which then fails, you could lose everything.

4 The ability to tell the story of your church

To understand why key decisions were taken some years ago, it is necessary to have accurate records. To see how God has been at work, you need to understand the past and how it impacts the present. Record management is not just a legal necessity but an ongoing telling of the story. A modern-day Acts of the Apostles if you like. Where would we be without the biblical records?

5 A document schedule showing lengths of retention times

You then need some form of table showing how long you will keep each type of record, whether dictated first by law, then by best practice or finally by local preference.

6 Implementation

See ‘Someone responsible’ below.

An annual weeding of the files

I stated at the outset that it was as important to destroy or delete files no longer needed, and sometimes this is a legal necessity. This requires an annual weeding of all documents. Some need to be kept permanently and sent to a diocesan or local authority record office to clear space in your own filing.

Some need to be shredded or deleted as being no longer necessary and again freeing up space.

Some need to be thinned down. For example, it may be better to keep a sample church magazine from each year than to hold all 12 copies which over many years take up a considerable space.

This process is best carried out at a fixed annual point so that it is not overlooked.

Someone responsible

But none of this will happen unless someone is responsible for the policy and an annual sort out. This ideally needs to be someone who already has access to the files to avoid unnecessary spreading of confidential and personal information.

GDPR requires Trustees to appoint a ‘Data Protection Officer’. In some churches this will be a task for the Operations Manager, in others for the Church Administrator. Confidentiality issues may lead some Ministers to feel this should be their responsibility but that would be a pity as they have more important roles to play. In some denominations the Church Secretary might be the responsible person or a specialist Archivist. But whatever it needs someone who feels the responsibility or it will simply not happen. And the Trustees need to own the process for they will be held liable for document leak or illegal destruction.

Helpful sources for greater detail

For Church of England churches (and more widely applicable) and then select ‘Keep or bin…?’, ‘Safeguarding records management’ and more. Note that ‘Keep or bin…?’ was written before the current Data Protection Act and GDPR came in.

For Methodist churches (and more widely applicable) and then select ‘Retention schedules for Methodist records’.

For Baptist churches (and more widely applicable) See especially their ‘Data Retention Schedule’.

For advice on charities, legal requirements and DPA, see the previous article.

John Truscott photoJOHN Truscott is an independent church consultant and trainer who champions the ministry of creative organisation. Visit his website and check out the Resources section for a growing range of over 190 items which you can print out and/or download. You can follow John on Twitter @johnnvtruscott. Church Administrators should join the UK Church Administrators Network (UCAN) at