Many company records need to be adequately protected and made easily accessible whilst current, and carefully stored when dead. Retention can be categorised as a statutory requirement (SR), or because it is commercially advisable or prudent, or for social/historical or general interest purposes.

Payroll records are unlikely to fall into the last category although personnel/employment records, with which such records are often virtually inextricably linked, may. However, employers should consider the manner in which they preserve records since some are subject to statutory requirements not least the DATA PROTECTION Act.

Retrieval and Reference
The current practice of both the Inland Revenue and the Contributions Agency seeking from employers information more than 6 years old, should remind administrators of the need to check that such information is available and that there is a comprehensive 'retain, preserve and/or destroy' policy for all records, not that the preservation period is necessarily easy to determine. For example, to support Corporation Tax calculations, 20 years accounting records are required to be preserved. If the pay records are considered to be supporting material for this purpose then, although normally they would be required to be kept for a much shorter period, this requirement may overrule that. Accordingly, the periods shown in this section are recommendations only, and particular organisations and/or industries should determine their own policy.

Miniaturised Records
The apparently ever-increasing requirement to preserve records may create a space problem. For many years it has been possible to microfilm records and then destroy the originals. The microfilm records must be supported by a certificate by a person conversant with the records and the microfilm process, as to its authenticity and care of preparation. (See British Standard 6498). More recently, the development of optical disk recording techniques enables a form of record to be prepared which has all the advantages of tiny volume and yet greater ease of access than microfilm provides. Advice should be taken on adequate preparation of such storage media - for example, the disks must be made unalterable and there must be a means of proving the veracity of the records. Under the Civil Evidence Act 1995, computerised records are acceptable as evidence in court.

Storage and Protection
Records should be stored where they will be secure from perils, including theft and pest destruction or damage, and yet reasonably accessible. Another advantage of computerised records is that duplicate records are both easy to create and store. Some records need to be stored in fire, or other risk, protected containers, despite the existence of back-up data. The policy should address these points. A destruction date for each container/ record should be decided upon and clearly stated on the exterior. This note should also state the means of disposal - shredding, incineration, specialist processing, or other alternative.

Employment Records
There follows a selection of records with suggested preservation periods. Where SR is shown there is a statutory requirement to preserve - otherwise the terms suggested are commercial advisability suggestions.

General Employment Data
Data: Recruitment data, applications, details of candidate choice.

Retain: Duration of employment plus 6 years (as a standard retention period) to defend possible discrimination action, and for possible repeat future RECRUITMENT.

Data: Authorities to recruit, pay, increase/decrease pay, make deductions, pay by credit transfer, terminate, etc. Clock cards, copy pay advices, pay summary accounts. Absence records.

Retain: Suggest at least 6 years from termination date - data available for audit, dispute, evidence loss of earnings claims, etc.

Data: Information required for National Minimum Wage Regulations.

Retain: SR - 3 years under National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999 but suggest 6 years as standard (For NMW guidance contact 0845 8450 360).

Data: Information required to be kept under the Working Time regulations (e.g. individual opt outs, agreements to vary the regulations, etc.).

Retain: Suggest 6 years as standard.

Data: Statutory Sick Pay and Statutory Maternity Pay records.

Retain: SR - 3 years under Regulation 13 of SSP Regs 1982 and Reg 26 of SMP Regs 1986, but suggest 6 years as standard.

Data: Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay records, Forms SC3 and SC4.

Retain: SR -3 years but suggest 6 as standard.

Data: Parental leave and family emergency leave taken.

Retain: Until 6 years after relevant child's 5th birthday or, if child is disabled or adopted, after expiry of entitlement.

Data: Flexible working request.

Retain: 6 years from application as standard.

Data: Calculation of pay records, Deduction sheets, details of code numbers supplied by the Inland Revenue, employers copy P45 and P46 not sent to IR. Tax and N I deduction calculations correspondence with IR and DSS/Contributions Agency.

Retain: SR - 3 years under Regulation 13 of Income Tax (Employment) Regs 1973 but suggest 12 since IR have queried employers going back that far.

Data: Earnings and numbers employed summaries, Dispensations granted by Inspector of Taxes. Redundancy papers, payment calculation refunds from Redundancy Fund.

Retain: Suggest 6 years from termination to cover possible enquiries.

Data: Disabled persons applications, consultation etc.

Retain: Suggest 6 years from currency in case of discrimination claim.

Data: Tribunal claims, back up papers and statistics.

Retain: Suggest 6 years after settlement.

Data: Personnel files and correspondence.

Retain: 6 years after year of termination (may be prudent to keep a synopsis of the employment record for a further 6 years available for REFERENCE requests).

The subject must be allowed access under the DATA PROTECTION Act. A fee of up to £10 can be charged.

Data: Personnel medical records. Health records. Accident reports and records, accident record books.

Retain: At least 40 years, possibly indefinitely, as defunct companies can be resurrected to allow the pursuance of employee and other liability claims. It is for this reason Certificates of Employers Liability must be kept for 40 years. Certain companies and/or industries may need to adopt specific rules in this regard.

Subject has right of access under Access to Medical Records Act 1988, and if he/she disagrees, their comments must be noted on the record.

Subject has right of access to health records compiled since 1.11.91 under Access to Health Records Act 1990, and, if they feel they are inaccurate, to request alteration.

Data: Trades Unions agreements.

Retain: Life of agreement plus 6 years.

Insurance Data
Data: Employer Liability insurance certificates.

Retain: 40 years from year of cover.