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Guideline 8 - Normal administrative practice

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These guidelines apply to the whole of the NSW public sector. They are aimed specifically at individual officers within public offices who have the responsibility of implementing these guidelines in the workplace.

These guidelines are also available in PDF format (159kb) for printing.

1. Introduction

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance on the destruction of records under the normal administrative practice ('NAP') provisions of the State Records Act 1998.

1.1 Scope and application

These guidelines apply to the whole of the NSW public sector. They are aimed specifically at individual officers within public offices who have the responsibility of implementing these guidelines in the workplace.

1.2 Background

Public offices create and maintain records as evidence of business activities and transactions. These records contribute to the ability of the public office to meet accountability standards and requirements. They are essentially the corporate memory of the organisation and are part of the memory of society as a whole. They can also play an important role as a cultural resource.

State Records produces various standards and guidelines to assist public offices to meet appropriate standards in the creation and management of State records.

1.2.1 Responsibilities of public offices

Under Part 2 of the Act, it is the responsibility of each public office to ensure that adequate recordkeeping practices and recordkeeping systems are in place throughout the organisation. It is also the responsibility of the public office to ensure the development of adequate policies and procedures regarding these recordkeeping practices and recordkeeping systems and that individual officers properly implement these policies and procedures.

1.2.2 Responsibilities of individual public officers

Individual officers are responsible for ensuring that all records that provide evidence of business transactions or decisions, or that contain information essential to the public office, are captured within the recordkeeping systems of the organisation (these being records of continuing value to the organisation).

The Australian Standard AS4390-1996 on Records Management recommends that:

Where an individual employee performs an action that does not itself generate a record, [such as a telephone conversation] the employee should decide whether a record needs to be made. Whether this is necessary should be decided through the analysis of recordkeeping requirements ... including the likelihood of the employee having to account for himself or herself later.

Individual officers make such recordkeeping decisions routinely and it is crucial that they are clear about their recordkeeping activities and responsibilities.

1.2.3 Capture of records into recordkeeping systems

Each public office must ensure that appropriate records documenting its business activities are captured into the organisation's recordkeeping systems. Records that are ephemeral, facilitative or duplicate in nature (and not of continuing value to the organisation) may not need to be placed within recordkeeping systems and may be required for only a few hours or days. The destruction of these types of records is acceptable as a part of normal administrative practice for a public office (see Section 3 of these guidelines for more details).

1.3 Protection of State Records

Part 3 of the State Records Act deals with the protection of State records. The purpose of this part is to protect State records from unauthorised disposal by public offices. S.21(1) provides various protection measures for State records and states:

A person must not:

(a) abandon or dispose of a State record, or
(b) transfer or offer to transfer, or be a party to arrangements for the transfer of, the possession or ownership of a State record, or
(c) take or send a State record out of New South Wales, or
(d) damage or alter a State record, or
(e) neglect a State record in a way that causes or is likely to cause damage to the State record.

1.4 Legal disposal of records

The Act provides a number of means to lawfully dispose of State records. Under s. 21 (2) State records can be authorised for disposal in five main ways:

  • with the permission of the State Records Authority
  • under the provisions of certain pieces of legislation (these specifically being any of the Acts that are exempted by regulation from the operation of Part 3 of the State Records Act)
  • in accordance with 'normal administrative practice' in a public office
  • by an order or determination of a court or tribunal, or
  • in accordance with a resolution of a House of Parliament, in relation to a State record for which the House is the responsible public office.

1.4.1 Disposal with permission of State Records

State Records has the power to authorise the disposal of State records. Under s.21(2)(c) the following is not a contravention of the protection measures established in s.21(1):

anything done by or with the permission of the Authority or in accordance with any practice or procedure approved by the Authority either generally or in a particular case or class of cases (including any practice or procedure approved of under any standards and codes of best practice for records management formulated by the Authority).

State Records generally gives permission for disposal by issuing retention and disposal authorities. Retention and disposal authorities can be issued as general  authorities (GAs) or functional authorities (FAs). General authorities can cover broad categories of public office (eg universities, local government, or hospitals) or apply to common classes of records (eg administrative, personnel and accounting records). Functional authorities cover the functional records specific to a particular public office.

State Records must not give permission or approval for any disposal action unless it has been first approved by the Board of the State Records Authority. S. 21 (3) states:

The Authority must not do, or give permission or approval for or with respect to the doing of, anything referred to in subsection (1) except with the approval of the Board given either generally or in a particular case or class of cases.

In practice, this means that all general and functional retention and disposal authorities are submitted to the Board for approval. After that approval has been given, State Records will then issue the authorities for use. See State Records Procedures for Disposal Authorisation for more details on disposal procedures and requirements.

1.4.2 Destruction of records in accordance with NAP

The Act also provides for limited legal disposal of State records without the specific authorisation of State Records. This is allowed for under the 'normal administrative practice' provisions. The inclusion of the normal administrative practice ('NAP') provision in the Act is intended to enable public offices to carry out a number of everyday, common sense procedures and practices.

The destruction of records according to normal administrative practice is authorised under s.21(2)(a), which states that the following is not a contravention of the protection measures established in s.21(1):

anything done in accordance with normal administrative practice in a public office (as provided by section 22).

S.22 further states:

(1) Something is considered to be done in accordance with normal administrative practice in a public office if it is done in accordance with the normal practices and procedures for the exercise of functions in the public office.

The guidelines in this document (Section 3) describe in more detail the types of records that can be legally destroyed without further reference to State Records. The scope of what is included in the definition of normal administrative practice will need to be updated from time to time. State Records is authorised by the Act to provide further directions on NAP procedures for public offices.

It should be noted that records that can not be destroyed and should, therefore, be captured into the organisation's recordkeeping system are also described in the guidelines.

1.4.3 Unacceptable NAP practices

The Act identifies some unacceptable practices and provides State Records with powers to notify a public office of other unacceptable practices. S. 22 (2) states:

(2) However, something is not considered to be done in accordance with normal administrative practice if:

(a) it is done corruptly or fraudulently, or is done for the purpose of concealing evidence of wrongdoing, or is done for any other improper purpose, or

(b) it is conduct or conduct of a kind declared by the regulations to be unacceptable for the purposes of this Part, or

(c) it is done in accordance with a practice or procedure declared by the regulations to be unacceptable for the purposes of this Part, or

(d) it is done in accordance with a practice or procedure that the Authority has notified the public office in writing is unacceptable for the purposes of this Part.

State Records may issue further advice identifying unacceptable NAP practices from time to time.

1.5 Internal policies and procedures for NAP

Public offices should produce internal policies and procedures to further define what are meant by normal administrative practice for their own organisation. For example, the public office will need to clarify how they define 'drafts containing significant or substantial changes or annotations'. Specific retention periods should also be determined for these records. These policies and procedures should then be circulated to all agency staff so that they are aware of their recordkeeping responsibilities.

1.6 Related documents

These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the other publications contained in the Government Recordkeeping Manual.

2. Definitions

For the purposes of these guidelines the following definitions apply:

Appraisal *
The process of evaluating business activities to determine which records need to be captured and how long the records need to be kept, to meet business needs, the requirements of organisational accountability and community expectations
Business activity *
Umbrella term covering all the functions, processes, activities and transactions of an organisation and its employees. Includes public administration as well as commercial business

Disposal * 
A range of processes associated with implementing appraisal decisions. These include the retention, deletion or destruction of records in or from recordkeeping systems. They may also include the migration or transmission of records between recordkeeping systems, and the transfer of custody or ownership of records
Documents *
Structured units of recorded information, published or unpublished, in hard copy or electronic form, and managed as discrete units in information systems

Ephemeral records #
Records of little value that only need to be kept for a limited or short period of time. Ephemeral records have no continuing value to the organisation and, generally, are only needed for a few hours or a few days
Facilitative records #
Records of little value and of a routine instructional nature that are used to further some activity. Most facilitative records have no continuing value to the organisation and, generally, are only needed for a few hours or a few days
Information systems *
Organised collections of hardware, software, supplies, policies, procedures and people, which store, process and provide access to information
Recordkeeping *
Making and maintaining complete, accurate and reliable evidence of business transactions in the form of recorded information
Recordkeeping systems *
Information systems which capture, maintain and provide access to records over time
Records *
Recorded information, in any form, including data in computer systems, created or received and maintained by an organisation or person in the transaction of business or the conduct of affairs and kept as evidence of such activity
Records of continuing value #
All records and information of continuing value must be captured into the agency recordkeeping system. Records of continuing value to the organisation can be defined as 'any record that has administrative, fiscal, legal, evidential or historic value to the organisation'. Such records are not the subject of the 'NAP' provisions and, consequently, must be disposed of in accordance with an appropriate disposal authority (such as, the General Disposal Authorities or the Functional Disposal Authorities developed by each public office)
State archive #
A State record that the [State Records] Authority has control of under [the] Act
State record #
Any record made and kept, or received and kept, by any person in the course of the exercise of official functions in a public office, or for any purpose of a public office, or for the use of a public office
Transaction *
The smallest unit of business activity. Uses of records are themselves transactions

NOTE:
The definitions which are taken from Australian Standard AS4390-1996, Records Management. Part 1, General are marked *.
The definitions which are taken from the State Records Act (NSW), 1998 are marked #.

3. Guidelines

These guidelines apply to records irrespective of format (including electronic records). Where the guidelines indicate that a record may be destroyed, then the record may be destroyed without further reference to State Records. Where the guidelines indicate that a record may not be destroyed according to these guidelines, then disposal must be authorised under other retention and disposal authorities issued by State Records.

It should be noted that disposal may already be covered by an existing retention and disposal authority, such as the General Retention and Disposal Authority: Administrative records (for administrative, accounting and personnel records) or by a functional retention and disposal authority specific to each organisation.

The following categories of records are covered by the guidelines:

  • outgoing correspondence
  • temporarily taking records out of the State
  • drafts
  • working papers/records
  • duplicates of records
  • computer support records
  • facilitating instructions
  • messages
  • facsimiles
  • stationery, and
  • solicited and unsolicited advertising material.

The guidelines for each of these categories contain a definition and a set of disposal directions. In some cases the disposal direction is divided into those records that can be disposed of and those which can not be disposed of under the NAP provisions. The whole section relating to a category should be read before any of the guidelines or directions relating to that category are applied.

An authority to destroy records under the NAP provisions is not a direction to destroy. A public office must be satisfied that a record authorised for destruction is no longer required for any other purpose by the public office and that requirements under any other Act have been met. Refer to the State Records publication Destruction of Records: A Practical Guide for appropriate methods and procedures for records destruction.

3.1 Guidance from State Records

3.1.1 Outgoing correspondence

Meaning

This covers original correspondence that is dispatched from a public office in the course of normal business activities.

Disposal

Authorised copies of outgoing correspondence are to be captured in an appropriate way within the public office's recordkeeping system and are not to be disposed of. After an authorised copy of outgoing correspondence has been captured in an appropriate way within the public office's recordkeeping system, the original can be dispatched from the public office.

3.1.2 Temporarily taking records out of the State

Meaning

From time to time it may be necessary for records to be taken out of the State for the conduct of official business.

Disposal

It is acceptable for an authorised person (who is employed in a NSW Department or other NSW public office) to take records temporarily out of the State for official business, but only if those records are relevant or necessary to the conduct of that official business. Such records are to remain in the custody of the authorised person and are to be returned to the public office when no longer required for the conduct of that business. Records should not be taken or sent out of the State permanently without explicit and legal authorisation of the kind described in section 21 (2) of the Act.

3.1.3 Drafts

Meaning

Drafting is the activity associated with preparing preliminary drafts or outlines of addresses, speeches, reports, correspondence, tables, statistics, file notes, plans, and sketches, etc, prior to production of a final version or the final form of the record. Drafting records can be in paper form or electronic form.

Drafts that must not be disposed of

Drafts in paper or electronic form that must not be disposed of are those for which there is an identified recordkeeping requirement to retain them because they document significant decisions, reasons and actions or contain significant information that is not contained in the final form of the document, or both. Examples of such drafts are:

(a) drafts containing significant or substantial changes or annotations, and
(b) drafts relating to the formulation of legislation, legislative proposals and amendments, and
(c) drafts relating to the formulation of policy and procedures, where the draft provides evidence of the processes involved or contains significantly more information than the final version of the record, and
(d) drafts of legal documents (contracts, tenders etc).

Drafts that can be disposed of

Drafts in paper or electronic form that can be disposed of are draft documents of a routine nature and for which there is no identified recordkeeping requirement, as set out above, to retain them:

3.1.4 Working papers/records

Meaning

Working papers/records are papers, background notes and reference materials that are used to prepare or complete other documents.

Working papers/records that must not be disposed of

Working papers/records that must not be disposed of are those for which there is an identified recordkeeping requirement to retain because they document significant decisions, reasons and actions or contain significant information that is not contained in the final form of the document, or both.

Examples are:

(a) working papers/records of a project officer or investigative officer where they are the substantive record of the project or investigation (that is, they contain substantial and valuable information not found elsewhere), and
(b) papers in an unofficial filing system where a registered file has not been created or kept within a public office's recordkeeping system, for example, within small business units, or within the office of the Chief Executive Officer.

Working papers/records that can be disposed of

Working papers/records can be disposed of when they are primarily facilitative and when the retention of the final version of a document is sufficient to meet the recordkeeping requirements of a public office, so long as they are not required to be retained in order to account for policies, decisions, reasons and actions or not required to function as evidence.

Examples are:

(a) audio recordings of dictated correspondence, conferences and meetings used to prepare correspondence, papers, minutes and transcripts, and
(b) calculations, and
(c) rough notes (including rough notes of meetings and telephone conversations where a formal record has been made), and
(d) statistics and figures.

3.1.5 Duplicates of records

Meaning

Duplicates are reproductions of records where the original or authorised copy of the record is contained within a public office recordkeeping system.

Duplicates that must not be disposed of

Duplicates that must not be disposed of are:

(a) duplicates of documents sourced from outside the public office that should properly be placed on file or captured in an appropriate way within the recordkeeping system of the public office, and
(b) duplicates of internal public office documents that in themselves may form part of a record, for example an authorised copy of a document sent from a central office to a regional area where that copy should be captured in the recordkeeping system of the regional area.

Duplicates that can be disposed of

Duplicates that can be disposed of are:

(a) information copies or duplicates of records that have already been captured within a recordkeeping system elsewhere in the public office, and that are generally kept for reference purposes by individuals (for example, information copies of correspondence, reports and memos),
(b) duplicates of internal publications held for informational purposes (for example, annual reports, brochures and leaflets),
(c) duplicates of external documents and publications (for example, external annual reports, price lists, trade journals and catalogues).

3.1.6 Computer support records

Computer support records that must not be disposed of

Computer support records that must not be disposed of are those that support significant functions of the public office and that may be needed as evidence of particular activities (for example, records that provide audit trails).

Computer records that can be disposed of

The following computer records can be disposed of once they have been acted upon or superseded and are not required for ongoing business requirements:

(a) input/output formats from mechanical and electronic records systems, such as:
(i) error or control reports,
(ii) input forms for data entry,
(iii) output used for checking/verifying,
(iv) regular batch reports,
(v) system reports,
(vi) transaction reports used for checking and control purposes,
(b) reference copies of user manuals and similar documents
(c) superseded computer logs,
(d) superseded or obsolete computing software,
(e) systems back-ups,
(f) test data.

3.1.7 Facilitating instructions

Meaning

Facilitating instructions are records that contain routine or facilitative instructions to officers in the form of 'post-it' or sticky notes, forms or similar records.

Facilitating instructions that must not be disposed of

The following facilitating instructions must not be disposed of:

(a) those that are identified as having continuing value (for example, are part of an actual business transaction itself),
(b) those that have policy or procedural implications,
(c) those that are identified as important to the public office.

Facilitating instructions that can be disposed of

Facilitating instructions that can be disposed of are those that are ephemeral and have short term value. They may relate to such activities as:

(a) correcting typing errors,
(b) file creation or retrieval,
(c) filing a letter,
(d) formatting documents,
(e) internal distribution lists for informational purposes,
(f) running off duplicates.

3.1.8 Messages

Meaning

Messages may be in the form of e-mail, voice mail, SMS (short message service) or text messages, instant messaging, facsimiles, 'post-it' or sticky notes, slips of paper, telephone messages, transmission reports or similar records.

Messages that must not be disposed of

Messages that are not to be disposed of are those that are identified as having continuing value.

Messages that can be disposed of

Messages that can be disposed of are those that:

(a) are ephemeral and are only of short term value,
(b) have had a copy placed on the relevant file or captured in an appropriate way within a public office recordkeeping system.

3.1.9 Facsimiles

Preservation of facsimiles

As thermal paper deteriorates, it is vital that facsimiles that have been printed on thermal paper be photocopied onto appropriate paper to ensure long-term preservation.

Facsimiles that must not be disposed of

Facsimiles that must not be disposed of are those that are identified as having continuing value.

Facsimiles that can be disposed of

Facsimiles that can be disposed of are those that:

(a) are ephemeral and are only of short term value,
(b) have an authorised copy captured in an appropriate way within a public office recordkeeping system.

3.1.10 Stationery

Stationery that can be disposed of

The following items can be disposed of:

(a) unused numbered volumes or pads,
(b) unused printed forms,
(c) unused stationery,
(d) unused letterhead.

3.1.11 Solicited and unsolicited advertising material

Meaning

This refers particularly to advertising and other material generally known as 'junk mail'. It includes (but is not limited to) the following:

(a) advertising 'flyers',
(b) brochures,
(c) catalogues,
(d) price lists.

Disposal

Solicited and unsolicited advertising material can be disposed of. Some catalogues may need to be placed on the appropriate equipment or purchase files.

© State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority, 2005.
This work may be freely reproduced and distributed for most purposes, however some restrictions apply. See our copyright notice or contact us.
ISBN 0-7313-9718-5