Guidelines for the destruction of a public sector organisation's temporary value records

Issued: November 2010

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Under s 131(1) of the Information Act, the chief executive officer of every public sector organisation is responsible for the orderly and accountable disposal of their organisation's records. This guideline is designed to assist organisations in the authorised destruction of their temporary value records, and ensuring all business and compliance requirements surrounding the process are fulfilled and documented.

The following Decision Tree is designed to give an overview of this process. Further information is contained in the remainder of this guideline.

Decision tree

Destruction of a public sector organisation's temporary value records decision tree

Detailed description of image

Image shows the various stages in the records disposal process and provides guidance through the options available at each stage.

At the top is the record stage with advice explaining that making a decision about retaining or disposing of a record involves following a path through the sentencing process. It says at the steps on this path, ask these questions about the record to work out where to go next, what to do with the record and what tools can be used to decide if the record should be retained or destroyed.

Under the record stage is the question “Is the record functional or administrative?”. The explanatory text states that the type of record determines the tool that can be used to make sentencing decisions.

The next stage separates functional schedules from administrative schedules and asks if the record has existing coverage under an existing functional or administrative schedule. Functional records disposal schedules are used to sentence unique business records. Administrative records use a general records disposal schedule if it is the most appropriate authority for sentencing the records. If the response is yes to either form of schedule the next stage is to sentence the record using whichever schedule.

If the answer at the existing disposal schedule stage is no the next question is “Can the records be destroyed as a normal administrative practice in line with agency policies?”. The explanatory text states an agency can use a normal administrative practice to destroy records that are not covered by an authority and are not considered significant or not needed to document agency business. Agencies should develop their own policies for using normal administrative practice.

If a gap in coverage is identified, i.e. the record cannot be sentenced using a functional or administrative record, nor can normal administrative practice be used to destroy it, the record must be kept until disposal coverage is developed.

Where there is disposal schedule coverage and the record can be destroyed, the next stage is to obtain internal authorisation for the destruction and complete a notification of destruction form.

It is highlighted that if a record has been identified as subject to a legal hold, a disposal freeze, or is pre-1978, it cannot be destroyed under any circumstances.

The final stage following destruction is to send a copy of the notification of destruction form to the NT Records Service.

Scope

This guideline applies to all public sector organisations as defined in Part 5 of the Information Act:

  • an agency
  • a government business division
  • a government-owned corporation
  • a local authority
  • a statutory corporation
  • a person appointed, or body established, by or under an Act or by the Administrator or by a minister
  • the Police Force of the Northern Territory
  • a person holding an office or position under an Act
  • a court of the Territory
  • a tribunal of the Territory
  • a person or body declared by the Regulations to be a public sector organisation.

Purpose

To assist public sector organisations with their accountability requirements in the process required to organise, dispose of, and notify the NT Records Service (DCIS) of temporary value records identified for destruction.

Records out of scope

  • Permanent and pre-1978 record: Records of permanent value and records created prior to 1 July 1978 are the responsibility of the NT Archives Service. Please refer to the NT Archives Service standards and advice.
  • Legal hold: Records that relate to any current or pending legal action, or are subject to a request for access under the Information Act must not be destroyed until the action has been completed. Please refer to Records management advice 7 - Legal hold order for records.
  • Disposal freezes: Records subject to a current disposal freeze generally relate to groups of records relating to a particular topic or event that has gained prominence or provokes controversy. While the freeze is in place, no records relating to the topic or event can be destroyed. For more information please refer to the NT Archives service advice on Records disposal freezes.

Please note: It is an offence to delete or otherwise dispose of a record as stated in Division 5, s145 of the Information Act - Mishandling records.

Authority

This guideline is issued by the Department of Corporate and Information Services (NT Records Service) under s 131A(c) of the Information Act.

Legal and regulatory framework

The regulatory basis for this guideline is defined in:

  • the Information Act
  • the NT public sector organisations records and information management standard.

Acknowledgement

The NT Records Service wishes to acknowledge the use of material produced by Queensland State Archives, State Records Authority NSW, National Archives of Australia, Public Records Office of Victoria and the NT Archives Service.

There are five steps to be observed when destroying a public sector organisation's records:

  • establish that there is a current and authorised records disposal schedule covering the records
  • sentence the records, that is, the process of assessing and identifying from the records disposal schedule which records can be destroyed and when they can be destroyed
  • destroy the records securely
  • ensure the destruction of the records has been clearly documented and captured in the corporate records management system
  • notify the NT Records Service (DCIS) of such destruction.

Is there a disposal schedule covering the records?

The first step in the destruction process is to establish whether there is a current and authorised disposal schedule covering the records in question. (See 2.3 for records identified out of scope.)

The only circumstances under which records can be destroyed legitimately without reference to a records disposal schedule are:

The vast majority of records must only be destroyed using a records disposal schedule.

In the Northern Territory there are two types of records and disposal schedules:

  • General Records Disposal Schedules that apply to records common to most or all public sector organisations
  • Functional Records Disposal Schedules that apply to records specific to a public sector organisation or function.

For more information, see the Records appraisal and disposal guidelines.

The NT public sector organisations records and information management standard – Disposal, states:

  • The most common method used to determine the retention or destruction of records is the records disposal schedule process. This involves a thorough and systematic analysis of the business activity of an organisation and an assessment of the records that are produced as a result of that activity. A records disposal schedule is then produced which permits a public sector organisation to retain or destroy its records in accordance with the Information Act.

Records retention decisions must be based on:

  • the current and future business needs of the organisation
  • compliance with legal and governance requirements of the organisation
  • the current and future needs of internal and external stakeholders including the wider community.

The organisation's records/information manager should be aware of the existence of records disposal schedules that apply to the organisation's records.

If no schedule exists please refer to the Guideline for the development of a functional records disposal schedule.

Sentencing

Sentencing is the process of applying the provisions of a records disposal schedule to an organisation's records by determining the part of a records disposal schedule that applies to an individual record and assigning a retention period consistent with that part.

When records have been sentenced as temporary, in accordance with an approved records disposal schedule, there is a set minimum retention period for which they must be retained.

Please note: if this step is not initiated by the records manager/information manager, ensure they are aware that records are being evaluated and sentenced so the decisions made can be checked.

Use of external consultants

There are a number of issues an organisation needs to consider when engaging a contractor to perform the records sentencing process.

The NT public sector organisations records and information management standard - Disposal, states:

  • Implementation of the provisions of a disposal schedule (sentencing records for destruction or retention) needs to be systematic, planned and documented. It must be carried out by appropriately qualified and experienced staff who have a good understanding of the business to which the schedule relates.

The NT public sector organisations records and information management standard - Security, states:

  • NT public sector organisations must adhere to the requirements of this standard. Organisations must ensure all staff are aware of the provisions of this standard, and adhere to them in the normal conduct of business. Organisations must also ensure security provisions are incorporated in contracts with contractors to ensure compliance with the Information Privacy Principles.

In general, contractors will need to be adequately supervised by a person in the organisation with sufficient knowledge of the organisation's functions to be able to provide guidance in the sentencing process. There will be a lot of consultation involved and this person will need to coordinate all the queries which will arise and know who in the organisation has the functional knowledge and authority to advise the contractor. They will also need to quality assure the sentencer's work, and it is recommended they examine every fifth record sentenced.

Secure destruction of records

Records must always be destroyed securely, with commensurate level of security that was maintained during the life of the records. Destruction of records should be performed by an officer of the agency or by an authorised contractor if destruction has been contracted out.

Sensitive records

Sensitive records contain information which, if released, could have a detrimental effect on people or organisations. Information that may be regarded as sensitive can fall into a number of categories:

  • personal and private information - for example, patient health records, employment records
  • financially or commercially sensitive information - for example, tender documentation
  • information relating to criminal or civil investigations - for example, fraud investigation records
  • information that poses a security risk - for example, security procedures.

Methods of destruction

In keeping with today's environmental practices, all records should be destroyed in an environmentally friendly manner whenever possible.

Paper

Paper records should be shredded and pulped. Security provided by shredding is dependent on how the paper is treated afterward. Shredded paper should then be pulped as modern technology allows reconstruction of shredded paper.

Electronic records

Public sector organisations should ensure electronic media that contains records in electronic formats are properly destroyed after the expiration of their minimum retention periods. Processes should be enacted to ensure that the information contained on the media is effectively irretrievable.

Please note: destruction of media should follow the NT Government standard. For information on destroying digital records that are authorised for destruction refer to the NT Government ICT Standard - Media Destruction. A copy of this standard can be obtained from the contact details below.

Destruction services

If utilising a destruction service through a commercial arrangement, the public sector organisation responsible for the records should ensure that all documents/records are securely stored and transported to the destruction site. A certificate of destruction is required from the service provider and retained permanently by the public sector organisation for accountability purposes.

The following methods do not meet all the destruction objectives and should not be used as a means of record destruction.

  • Deletion: Simply deleting records from a hard drive or USB device does not permanently erase them and they can easily be restored for some time after deletion.
  • Dumping: Dumping of records does not result in their destruction and security can be easily comprised.
  • Burying: Records can be uncovered within hours of burying, thus security cannot be assured.
  • Burning: The burning of records causes unnecessary environmental pollution.

Documenting the destruction of records in an organisation's control system

The Records Management Standard for Disposal contains the following statement:

  • The destruction of a public sector organisation's records needs to be clearly documented and captured in the metadata in the corporate records management system.

Evidence of the destruction of records must be retained permanently by the organisation. At a minimum this must include:

  • unique record identifier
  • the number and version of the approved disposal schedule
  • class reference (for example, destroy five years after action completed)
  • date of disposal
  • authorising officer.

Public sector organisations should keep a destruction register that links individual records destroyed with consignments sent for destruction. Should the destruction be performed by a contractor or service provider, this will strengthen the evidence that records have actually been destroyed.

The certificate of destruction should be contained on a file together with all other destruction documentation. The destruction certification should note:

  • description of records
  • date of destruction
  • method of destruction
  • individual performing/supervising destruction.

Please note: NT public sector organisations are not required to notify the NT Records Service if the record is destroyed in accordance with normal administrative practice or the Disposal Schedule for Records of Short Term Value (excluding class 1.10.1).

For more information regarding normal administrative practice refer to the NT public sector organisations records and information management standard - Governance.

A compliant agency can demonstrate that:

  • corporate records management systems correctly apply disposal actions as specified in approved Records Disposal Schedules and these decisions are reviewed by a qualified or experienced person before any destruction takes place
  • staff carrying out sentencing activities have adequate training, especially in compliance with the principles of consistency and objectivity
  • all sentencing decisions are recorded by the agency, the fate of every record is recorded, and the records detailing record history are retained permanently.

Forward documentation to the records service

Following destruction of records a public sector organisation is required to notify the NT Records Service. A copy of the notification of destruction form will need to be forwarded to the NT Records Service for the purpose of monitoring the use of disposal schedules. An acknowledgement will be sent on receipt of the notification of destruction form/s. The nominated officer of the organisation will only be contacted if clarification is required.

Please use the form Notification of destruction of records - NT Public Sectors organisations (39.4 kb) for this purpose.

For information and advice contact Records Policy Unit.

Destruction of a public sector organisation's temporary value records - Compliance and governance checklist

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  • Is your agency responsible for the records?
    • Yes checkbox
    • No checkbox - Make arrangement with the owning agency.
  • Has the disposal schedule for the records been identified?
    • Yes checkbox
    • No checkbox - Identify the appropriate records disposal schedule.
  • Has the minimum retention period for the records been identified?
    • Yes checkbox
    • No checkbox - Identify the appropriate classes.
  • Have the records, together with their metadata been captured into the corporate records management system?
    • Yes checkbox
    • No checkbox - Attach the metadata in the control system.
  • Is there any current outstanding request for the records, including public enquiry, legal hold or a disposal freeze?
    • Yes checkbox - Do not destroy the records.
    • No checkbox
  • Is there a business need to keep the records beyond the minimum retention period?
    • Yes checkbox - Do not destroy the records.
    • No checkbox
  • Do the records have a historical or social significance that warrants their retention beyond the minimum retention period?
    • Yes checkbox - Do not destroy the records.
    • No checkbox
  • Do the records contain information that may allow people to establish links with their Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage?
    • Yes checkbox - Do not destroy the records.
    • No checkbox
  • Identify the appropriate methods of destruction for the record format.
    • Yes checkbox
    • No checkbox

Last updated: 04 May 2018

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