Go to top of page

Find out how long to keep records (sentence records)

How long records need to be kept is key to how you keep and manage your records. Records need to be kept either forever (permanent), a certain period of time (temporary), or a short amount of time such as a day or two (for example transitory).

Sentencing involves identifying the record class a record belongs to and applying the disposal action (retention period and disposal triggers) specified in the relevant retention and disposal schedule.

1. When should I sentence records?

Records can be sentenced when they are created or as required (e.g. at the end of the financial year).

Sentencing should occur when it is most suitable and efficient for your agency. This may depend on the type and volume of records you create, your agency and your recordkeeping system.

Sentence at creation

You can sentence a record by linking a disposal action to a title or classification that you use in your recordkeeping system. Alternatively, you can manually register a disposal action in the record or file metadata.

Sentencing records at creation may help you manage your records more effectively. You will have a better understanding of storage needs, migration requirements, filing conventions and retention periods.

Sentencing periodically

Records can be sentenced as required.

This may be necessary when a file needs to be closed before a sentence can be applied, especially if the disposal action includes a trigger such as ‘after business action completed’ or ‘superseded’. A nominal period could be assigned to these records which could act as a review trigger.

Sentencing periodically may be better if you are a small agency and/or create a lot of similar records that would be relatively easy to sentence.

2. Apply a sentence

Sentencing records can be complex and should be undertaken by people with appropriate recordkeeping knowledge and understanding of the business, particularly if sentencing legacy records or records inherited as part of a MOG change.

The retention period listed in the relevant retention and disposal schedule is the minimum time the records must be kept. Records must be kept longer if:

  • the business need for them has not ceased
  • they are covered by to a disposal freeze
  • they are required for legal action
  • they are subject to a request for access under the Right to Information Act 2009, the Information Privacy Act 2009 or any other relevant Act.

The following steps will help you apply the correct sentence to your records:

  • To reduce the risk of losing valuable contextual information, always sentence at the file or container level not at the individual document/record level.
  • Know your business and the records your agency creates and receives, including those you’ve inherited. This helps to determine what records are significant to the agency, which ones are needed for ongoing business, and which ones are administrative.
  • Know which business areas to talk to if you need more information about a record or file.
  • Decide which retention and disposal schedule covers your records.
  • Ensure you have the current version of the relevant schedule, especially if records have been sentenced earlier.
  • Work out the function and activity your records fall under in the schedule. You may need to know:
    • which business area the records came from
    • why they were created
    • what the business context was at the time
    • where they are mapped to in your business classification scheme.
  • Identify which record class applies to your records. If there are several classes that could apply, use the longest retention period.
  • Calculate the destruction date by using the disposal trigger in the schedule. This may not be possible if a business outcome is not yet known. If in doubt, flag the records for review.

Note: Records must fit within the scope of the record class in the applicable schedule, which may describe the business process instead of the specific records.

Resources

Note: You can create recordkeeping procedures, agency guides and cheat sheets to provide guidance on retention periods and/or disposal actions. This is particularly useful if business areas are responsible for managing their own records or deal with significant or permanent value records.

3. Disposal triggers

Disposal triggers are the event or action from which the disposal date is calculated (e.g. business action completed, completion of contract, end of financial year).

Commonly used disposal triggers include:

TriggerMeaning

Business action completed

The date the business, described in the record class, has come to an end (e.g. a case has been closed or a matter has been finalised).
(Note: An action does not include someone viewing a record).

Date of birthThe date of birth of an individual, such as a child in care, an employee, a client or patient.
DisposalThe date an asset (e.g. equipment, car, building or property) is disposed of through ownership transfer, decommissioning, destruction or demolition.
End of financial yearIn Australia, the end of the financial year is 30 June.

Expiry

The date a policy/legal instrument (e.g. a contract, lease, mortgage, authorisation, licence or warranty) ceases to have effect.

For the life of the recordFor as long as the record that it is controlling exists. Usually only used as a disposal action for records which control other records (e.g. master control records, data quality and validation records)

Permanent

Transfer to QSA after business action completed

Records with high or significant archival value, which have enduring value to the people and State of Queensland, and cannot be destroyed.

These records must be kept permanently and should be transferred to Queensland State Archives (QSA) after business action is completed.

Permanent

Retain in agency

Records with a high or significant value to a specific agency but which are not of archival value to the people or State of Queensland.

These records should be kept permanently by the agency and not transferred to QSA.

SeparationThe date an employee leaves an agency through resignation, termination, redundancy or death.
SupersededThe date of replacement with a new or different version (e.g. a new policy supersedes an older policy).

Termination

The date a policy/legal instrument (e.g. licences, authorisations or agreements) is cancelled, revoked or otherwise terminated because of breaches of conditions etc. Similar to expiry.

4. Files with multiple retention periods, parts and formats

Multiple retention periods

Some files may contain records with different retention periods.

All files with multiple retention periods must be kept for the longest applicable retention period.

For example, if there are records on the file that require permanent retention, then the whole file must be kept permanently.

Records should never be removed or culled from a file. Culling is time-consuming and costly, and can raise questions around accountability, transparency and the evidential value and completeness of the records.

Files with multiple parts and formats

Any files that have more than one part to them, especially if they relate to large projects or ongoing activities, or include different formats and types of records (i.e. hybrid files) should be sentenced as one file. This way they will all be kept for the same length of time.

5. Significant, major and permanent records

Some records may need to be sentenced as ‘significant’ or ‘major’ to separate the permanent records from other minor records that only need to be retained temporarily.

Significance is based on evaluative judgements, the context, the government activity being undertaken and the level of their impact on the government or the community.

To decide which records are 'significant' or 'major', look at the issues, incidents, decisions or events the records document.

The following questions will help you decide.

  • Does the activity, event, decision:
    • set a precedent
    • have considerable economic, environmental or social impact
    • lead to a change in government policy
    • demonstrate an innovative or important project or program
    • arouse wide scale public interest or controversy
    • encourage wide community or media interest or scrutiny
    • capture a unique event or point in time for your agency, state or community?
  • Would the destruction of the records mean a loss of important information to the people of Queensland?
  • Has the value or significance of the records increased since they were created or first sentenced?

Check the schedule for definitions of terms “significant”, “substantial” and “major”. These definitions should be tailored to the specific contents and will help you determine if records fall under the ‘significant’ record class or not.

The appraisal log should also contain justification for significant record classes and provide further information to help you sentence records based on significance.

Read more about determining what records are significant.

See an example of sentencing significant records.

Identify permanent archival value records using QSA’s appraisal statement

Identifying permanent archival value records is based on the 6 characteristics in QSA’s Appraisal Statement (PDF, 243 KB).

  1. Authority, foundation and structure of government
  2. Primary functions and programs of government
  3. Enduring rights and entitlements
  4. Significant impact on individuals
  5. Substantial contribution to community memory
  6. Environmental management and change

Some characteristics will contain a qualification that a particular action, issue and/or impact must be “significant”.

The following factors contribute to the degree of their significance:

  • aesthetic or artistic impact
  • economic impact
  • environmental impact
  • extent of the population affected
  • Government expenditure or commitment
  • international reaction
  • political or legal ramifications
  • public reaction or sensitivity
  • public safety implications
  • social or cultural impact
  • extent of profound changes to lives of individuals, families or communities.

Identify permanent archival value records based on other characteristics

Records may need to be kept permanently based on inherent value beyond the information they contain (e.g. its physical qualities, format). These records may not technically meet the characteristics in the appraisal statement. (PDF, 243 KB)

Use the following characteristics to determine if records have permanent archival value beyond the appraisal characteristics.

Aesthetic or artistic quality

Includes manuscripts, photographs, pencil, ink, or watercolour sketches, maps and architectural drawings, and engraved or printed forms, such as bounty-land warrants.

Consider:

  • quality of the craftsmanship
  • representative value of a style, design, artistic movement or an artist’s work
  • originality or innovation
  • depiction of a subject, person, place, activity or event of interest or importance
  • importance of the artist, writer, designer or creator
  • evidence of outstanding artistic, design, innovation or technical accomplishment.

Artefactual quality

Some records should be preserved in their original format. This may be because they are evidence of technological development or have unique, curious, or historical physical features or formats (e.g. early press copies, glass-plate negatives and wax-cylinder sound recordings).

Physical features that are unique, curious, or historically significant might include:

  • texture of paper, wax seals, imprints and watermarks
  • inks
  • early or unusual bindings.

Permanent value based on this criteria is rare. Only a representative selection of a particular physical form or feature will be accepted as permanent archival value as it involves the preservation of a particular form for its value as an artefact.

Complementary value/relationship to existing holdings

Records that compliment and add research value to an existing series in the custody of QSA.

Usually records that fit this criteria will also meet one of the main appraisal characteristics.

Rarity and/or uniqueness

Older records can be more significant than more recent records documenting the same function or activity. They may:

  • be the only public records that exist for a particular geographic area or activity
  • document functions and activities that differ from the current responsibilities of the public authority
  • be unique records that provide details of a different time and place which are valuable to researchers
  • be provide the only evidence of a public authority that no longer exists.

More information

If you think that a temporary retention period in an approved schedule does not apply to the records you are sentencing either because it is incorrect or because different circumstances apply to the records e.g. they were created in a different context, refer to the appraisal log (if available) or the QSA appraisal statement (PDF, 243 KB). If the records meet one or more of the appraisal statement criteria, complete the special circumstances appraisal form (DOCX, 255 KB) and send it to rkqueries@archives.qld.gov.au. We can then assess the records and determine if they are of permanent archival value.

Read more about determining what records are significant.

6. Common activities record classes

The General Retention and Disposal Schedule and some other schedules include a section for common activities.

If your agency’s core schedule includes common activities record classes, they can be used with any function within your core schedule.

The common activities record classes can be used with any function in the GRDS or your agency’s core schedule. That is, each record class from the common activities section can be combined with any function undertaken by your agency.

You cannot use a common activity record class with a core function if:

  • there is an exemption indicated in the record class
  • your agency has specific legislative retention requirements
  • a risk assessment or other checks indicate the records need to be retained longer.

An assessment of the value of and retention requirements for any core records should be done before sentencing them under a common activities function, especially if you do not have a core schedule.

Check that the purpose for which the records were created fits within the scope of the record class and that the retention period is suitable. If it doesn’t fit and/or the retention period is not suitable for the record, the common activity record class must not be used.

Find out more about the common activities and sentencing records using a common activity record class.

See example of when a common activities record class can be used with a core function.

See an example of when a common activity record class should not be used.

7. Records covered by multiple schedules

If both your agency core schedule and the General Retention and Disposal Schedule contain record classes covering the same activity, first check that the record classes are the same–they have the same intent and scope–and that they apply to the records in question.

If they do, you will need to decide which schedule and record class to use—that is, which one takes precedence.

As a general guide, if they have:

  • the same retention period, the GRDS takes precedence
  • different retention periods, your schedule takes precedence as long as it is current and up-to-date.

Retention periods in core schedules may be different if your agency has a specific regulatory requirement, or if the records created by your agency are considered to have a different value. In these cases these records need to be included in an agency/sector schedule.

8. Records in business systems

You can sentence records in business systems at the system or record level.

System level

The longest retention period must be applied and all records must be retained for the same amount of time, even if the longest period is permanent.

For example, if one record in the system needs to be kept for 25 years, then all records in the system need to be kept for 25 years.

Record or file level

Records can be disposed of as they become eligible. This is particularly useful if you have many different retention periods, or if the retention periods are going to expire at very different times (e.g. 10 years compared to 50 years).

Considerations when sentencing

The option you choose will depend on the practicalities, logistics and technicalities of the process (e.g. time, number of records), the system’s capabilities, the complexity of the system and the data structure.

You must be able to identify and isolate individual or sets of records before you can dispose of them and extract the records, including all associated metadata. This process is easier if the system has well-defined metadata.

The more complex the data system, the less likely you will be able to identify and detangle individual records. Attempting to do so may also risk the integrity of the records or lead to unlawful disposal.

If it is technically possible to extract records from the system, care needs to be taken to ensure that:

  • records (or metadata) are not left behind or deleted when they need to be retained
  • loss of accessibility and usability is minimised
  • meaning is not lost (data without relationships may be rendered meaningless)
  • community expectations are met.

Note: If the system contains more than one type of record or data, the records may be found in one or more classes in a schedule, or across multiple schedules.

If you are decommissioning a business system you may be able to apply for early disposal authorisation for eligible records (DOC, 309 KB).

Calculating the disposal trigger for records in a business system is different to other records. Trigger dates may not have been recorded in the system, or the date created may not be available if records have been migrated or imported into the system.

If the relevant trigger date was not recorded in the business system, you will need to decide on a meaningful and reliable date that can be used as a consistent point of reference for the trigger. If the disposal trigger is based on the date created, check that the creation date is the true creation date, and not the date of migration or import.

Analyse business systems to determining disposal coverage

You can do an analysis of a business system if you are unsure what records it contains or whether or not they are covered by a retention and disposal schedule.

Note: If you are using the decommissioning a business system methodology, the pathway you take will depend on whether or not records are covered by an existing schedule.

You will need to find out:

  • what business processes the business system supports
  • the records created as part of those processes
  • if the processes relate to core business or support an administrative function.

Talk to staff who use or have used the system. Also look at documentation about the business system, your agency’s business classification scheme and agency history (for non-current systems).

Once you know what records the system contains, find out which schedule to use.

9. Sentence by exception using the GRDS Lite

Sentencing by exception using a ‘lite’ schedule (e.g. GRDS Lite) allows you to easily identify which records:

  • have permanent value (permanent class)
  • are temporary but which need to be retained for a long time (long-term temporary class)
  • have a particular retention requirement (unique retention period requirements class)
  • only need to be kept for 7 years (the default class).

Sentencing by exception can be easier if you have a lot of records to sentence, limited time, or if recordkeeping is done by business areas.

The GRDS Lite can be used with the full version to sentence records if necessary.

Find out more about the GRDS Lite and how to use it.

10. Bulk sentencing

The following steps will help you sentence a large quantity of physical or digital records.

  1. Undertake sample of records
    You will need to sample the records to check the accuracy of the information about the records and capture any further details needed to make an informed decision.
    Sampling should be based on the quality of your current information and the level of risk you are willing to accept (e.g. sample 1 in 10 boxes if you have a lot of information about the records as opposed to 1 in 5 if the information is incomplete).

  2. Gather information about the records
    You will need to know as much as you can about the records, including the age, purpose and subject/context of the records. Information may be available in your recordkeeping system or may need to be sourced elsewhere.

  3. Research the context of the records
    Find out when they were created, which agency created them and for what purpose. You may need to research the functions and activity belonging to the records, or speak to the business areas that may know their history.
    Also check that your agency is still responsible for the records—the functions or activity that they document may have been transferred to another agency.

  4. Work out which schedule to use
    Your agency core schedule may not cover the records, particularly if they are legacy records or records inherited as a result of a MoG change.
    If records have been inherited, check if they are covered by a schedule issued to the original agency. Contact us to found out if you need permission to use this schedule

  5. Sentence the records
    Sentence the records based on the information gathered from research and sampling. The relevant retention period and disposal trigger can be applied to the batch or box of records as applicable.
    If you are no longer responsible for the records, you will need to contact the agency that now has responsibility for the records. Any decisions about the management or destruction of these records should be made by the CEO or authorised delegate of the responsible agency. See transferring functions between agencies.

Resources

11. Records with no appropriate record class

At times you may not be able to find an appropriate record class to sentence records because there is a gap in your schedule, the scope note of the record class does not match, or there is a variation in terms.

Before you decide you can’t sentence your records:

  • think about the similarities between the record being sentenced and the record classes listed in the schedule—think broadly about the original intent of the record class
  • talk to relevant business managers—understanding the business process or activity the records relate to will help determine which record class fits best

If a different term is used in the schedule, you can:

If functions or activities have changed, the schedule will need to be updated before you can sentence and destroy the records that aren’t covered.

12. Change a sentenced record (resentencing)

Resentencing will generally be required if all of the following apply:

  • the records have been sentenced under an approved retention and disposal schedule
  • the records have not been disposed of
  • the record class under which they have been sentenced has been superseded or replaced by a new record class

or

  • circumstances have changed and the record falls into a new record class (e.g. the record was subject to a Right to Information or Information Privacy application, or its significance has changed).

If your schedule has changed, you will need to find out what changes were made to retention periods, record class descriptions and disposal triggers.

Here are some common scenarios to help you decide if records need to be resentenced.

Has the retention period or final disposal action for the records changed?

  • Update the disposal authorisation number in your recordkeeping system.
  • Retain the retention period and disposal trigger of the previous authority (as it is the same).
  • Update metadata and control records as necessary.

Has the retention period and/or disposal trigger changed?

  • Resentence the records to apply the new retention period and disposal trigger.
  • Update the information and metadata in your recordkeeping and control systems to reflect the changed requirements (including the new disposal authorisation number).

Has the retention period reduced?

  • Update the disposal authorisation number in your recordkeeping system.
  • If it is beneficial to your agency, resentence the records to apply the new minimum retention period.
  • Update the information and metadata in your recordkeeping and control systems to reflect the changed requirements.
  • Update metadata and control records as necessary.

Has the retention period increased?

  • Resentence the records to apply the new retention period and disposal trigger.
  • You must ensure that the record is retained for the extended period.
  • Update the information in your recordkeeping and control systems to reflect the changed requirements (including the new disposal authorisation number).
  • Update metadata and control records as necessary.