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    A matter of record

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    It may not be the most thrilling part of your working day, but intelligent records management is important for meeting legislation, as Jason Thomas explains. Breaching the Data Protection Act has serious consequences. Earlier this year, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe was fined £250,000 following a serious breach. But it’s not just global firms that are investigated.

     

    A charity was fined £70,000 after confidential reports went missing when left outside a house. The Information Commissioner has the power to impose fines of up to £500,000 on any company which breaches the Data Protection Act 1998, so it’s important for organisations to understand how effective records management can help them remain compliant.

     

    Whatever your business or the industry you operate within, an organisation has the legal requirement to retain and destruct its data and records in accordance with the National Archives guidelines as of April 1st 2012.

    Following changes in the guidelines on 1st April 2013, each business must now show a duty of care with regards to all documents that need to be legally retained. For a majority of small to medium sized businesses, the responsibility for this will be placed with PAs, so it is vital you understand the challenges and requirements.

    Not everybody will be fully aware of what record management relates to. Essentially, it is the maintaining of records, either in hard copy or digital format, from the time they are created until they need to be disposed of.

    The Data Protection Act is made up for eight principles which businesses need to meet to ensure best practice is achieved and compliance is met. One of the policies relates to the retention of information. Although the act does not specify any minimum or maximum period of time for the retention of data, it does say that it should not be kept for longer than is necessary. By taking the step of developing an in-house Document Retention Policy, PAs can detail how long records should be stored and make sure it is enforced. In practice this involves reviewing the time data is kept, considering the purpose for holding the information, disposing securely of information that is no longer needed and updating, archiving and deleting information if it is out of date.

    Businesses should also consider the introduction of a Document Destruction Policy, which specifies how documents should be securely disposed of when they are no longer required. It’s important to have systems in place to ensure confidential data and personal information doesn’t leave the organisation or fall into the wrong hands.

    Nobody wants to create policies for the sake of it. But having document retention and destruction systems in place are beneficial. Reviewing them on a regular basis will mean you can keep track of the documents you have, what their purpose is and ensure you remain compliant at all times. However, many businesses (particularly SMEs) will struggle to remain compliant because the redirection of staff to oversee these activities is not something they can afford. This is when it helps to seek the advice of an outside expert with a record management service that allows businesses to store and archive data from ‘cradle to grave’. Such off-site records storage solution means space is maximised, rental costs are lower and staff are able to concentrate on core activities. As well as these increased efficiencies for your business, these services will keep you legally compliant and ensure rapid and accurate records retrieval. What’s more, they should provide the relevant certification confirming your compliance under the Data Protection Act.

    Records management doesn’t need to be a hassle. But whether you choose to manage it in-house or outsource it to the experts, it pays to know the facts of compliance. Your business could end up paying the price if you don’t.

    Jason Thomas is Director of Accord Office Supplies, a division of office2office plc, which is a leading office products distributor. Its services include office furniture, supplies, records management, promotional products and print management service. For more information call 0845 130 8800 or visit accordoffice.co.uk/recordsmanagement

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    AUTHOR

    Molly Dyson

    Former Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Molly Dyson