Marking records as missing

The purpose of this advice is to outline the circumstances under which an agency is permitted to mark records as missing in the corporate records management system (TRM), and provides guidance in taking all possible steps to avoid using this facility.

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Recommendation

The ‘Set as Missing’ facility in the Set Assignee interface in TRM should be used as a last resort when all possible attempts to locate a record have been exhausted.

Image of the 'Set as Missing facility' in the 'Set Assignee' interface in HP TRIM.

The checklist and instructions at ‘Searching for missing record - checklist’ below are to be used to ensure that every effort has been made to locate a record thought to be missing prior to marking it as such in the system.

Only after this procedure has been followed can a record be marked as missing, and then only by a records officer or a member of the agency's records management unit.

Explanatory information

The Records Management Standards for public sector organisations in the Northern Territory (NT) state in Standard - Discovery ‘Records must be findable and accessible for as long as they are required’. It explains the reasons why records need to be readily accessible:

  • for the current operational requirements of an organisation, for example, to confirm decisions made, advice given or action taken, or as background to the conduct of further business
  • in response to requests for information in accordance with the Information Act 2002 (freedom of information)
  • in order to be produced in an official inquiry or for other regulatory or investigatory purposes, for example, by the Auditor-General or the Ombudsman, or in a court of law.

Accessing records in a timely manner is particularly important where there are limits imposed upon the time taken to access and produce them (for example, in accordance with the Information Act, or in legal discovery).

This situation has been commented upon by the Office of the NT Information Commissioner where, in the Commissioner's Annual Report for 2008/09, it is stated:

  • Some complaints [to the Commissioner] are delayed because certain agencies have poor records management systems and it is difficult, or even impossible, for them to locate the information that is being sought. (1.3 Performance measures as set by Budget Paper 3, p 6)

The corporate records management system in the NT government, TRM, is critical for the management of an agency's records. It will be the initial system relied upon in many searches for records of agency business when required. As such, it is essential that it contain accurate and up to date information.

If there is a situation where staff are permitted to check the ‘Set as Missing’ box in TRM without a full and rigorous investigation being conducted to find the records, there may be severe consequences. An excessive number of records marked as missing in the system will result in a negative end to searches when records are legitimately required for business or regulatory purposes by the agency. Apart from the obvious inefficiency and waste of resources looking for records, this could lead to embarrassment for the agency or penalties imposed under legislation.

By assigning a record to a single person, you are effectively giving that person responsibility for the record. On receipt of the record, the individual should accept responsibility for:

  • care and physical maintenance of the record (for physical records)
  • ensuring that the record is not inappropriately accessed (for physical and electronic records)
  • ensuring that other people with legitimate business needs can find and use the information on the record (for physical and electronic records)
  • ensuring the file is returned to the central file unit once it is no longer required (for physical records)
  • ensuring that information on the file is not removed or altered (for physical and electronic records).

Search for missing records - checklist

Before a file is marked as missing the instructions in this checklist need to be followed.

  1. Contact the person who has been assigned the record.
  2. Arrange to do an audit of their workstation.
  3. If the record has not been found arrange withthe business unit manager to do an audit of the business unit.
  4. Check movement history in TRM for the record.
  5. Document action, sign off (User Stamp) on the control record in TRM before marknig as missing.

When a record is missing

When all efforts to find a record have failed there are steps that can be taken to attempt to reconstruct it.

If a missing record contains electronic documents as well as paper then the electronic documents will not be missing, just the hard copy. The electronic documents will need to be printed and contained to a physical copy of the original file if any of the following applies:

  • the disposal status of the record is Permanent
  • there is no records disposal schedule covering the records
  • your agency is not using electronic document and records management functionality in TRM.

The Notes field in TRM should be annotated that the physical file is missing and that this is a copy to contain the electronic documents from the original record, and the title must also reflect that this is a copy.

More information

The NT Records Service is responsible for developing, managing and implementing records management standards for the NT Government. The regulatory basis for records management is the Information Act 2002, Part 9 - Records and Archives Management.

For further information please contact:

NTG Records Policy Unit
ICT Policy and Strategy Section
Department of Corporate and Information Services
Email: ntg.recordspolicy@nt.gov.au

Last updated: 05 November 2019

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