Data protection – When should you destroy documents?


Data protection is very important especially with the introduction of the GDPR and Data Protection Act 2018. New laws have meant that you need to have a good understanding of the different restrictions and regulations, particularly as fines can be issued for failure to comply with the rules.

Therefore businesses should give special consideration to the documents that you store or have access to. Many of your business documents are likely to contain sensitive data about your customers and employees, and so it’s important that you know your responsibilities in relation to data retention and document destruction.

Statutory retention periods and retention policies

There are set regulations relating to the retention periods of documents that highlight when you legally must destroy records that you possess. All business agreements and contracts (such as an employment contracts) should be retained for a period of six years before you destroy them, excluding the particular length of any contracts. VAT records must be kept for at least six years after they are created, with both digital and physical copies helping you to remain compliant. Pension documents must also be stored for a period of at least six years.

As a way to deal with the retention periods of documents, businesses tend to create retention policies, which help them to comply with regulations. You should research into the different retention periods for documents in different industries, implementing a policy that can relate to the work that you do and the documents that you handle.

When you should destroy your business documents

You no longer need them

When the time comes that you no longer need a document or set of documents, you should destroy them. Providing that they don’t relate to company information, clients or employees, you are able to destroy them as frequently as you please.

You have backup copies of them

Hard copy documents are often digitised by companies as a way to minimise risks of the data being stolen. As information can be stored and transferred online, many businesses believe that there is no longer a need to keep hard copies of documents. If you are a business that works mainly with digital documents, you may want to dispose of your hard copy documents, which is perfectly fine providing that you are sure that you have backup copies before doing so.

How should you destroy documents?

Businesses are required to put specific measures into place for the destruction of sensitive documents, in order to prevent data being misused. Having the correct measures in place and destroying confidential documents in the right way will ensure that you comply with the rules, but you need to be aware of when you must destroy the documents.

When it is time to destroy the document, it’s likely that they will be confidential and will contain sensitive information that cannot be seen by others. If this is the case then you must take appropriate action. If you have digital copies of the documents, then you must be sure that you have completely deleted them and that there is no way for people to get hold of them. For hard copies, you must be sure that you have completely destroyed the documents, which is best done by using a professional and confidential destruction service.

Joe Muddiman