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Part 1: Understanding and using the authority (GA39)

The authority applies to all records of council business and administration.

1.1 Overview | 1.2 Structure and components | 1.3 Guidelines for implementation | 1.4 Glossary

1.1 Overview

Purpose of the authority

The purpose of the General retention and disposal authority: local government records is to identify records created and maintained by NSW councils and county councils which are required as State archives, and to provide approval for the destruction of certain other records after minimum retention periods have been met. The authority applies to all records of council business and administration.

The approval for disposal given by this authority is given under the provisions of the State Records Act 1998 (NSW) only and does not override any other obligations of an organisation to retain records.

See 1.3 Guidelines for implementation: Destroying records (below) for more information.

Public offices authorised to use this authority

The General retention and disposal authority: local government records applies to all NSW councils and county councils under the Local Government Act 1993.

This authority may also be used by NSW public offices listed as water supply authorities under the Water Management Act 2000 and whose responsibilities include the provision of local water supply and sewerage services, in respect of records relating to the provision, management or operation of those services

This authority may also be used by NSW public offices whose responsibilities include the provision of local government services, such as the Lord Howe Island Board and the Cobar Water Board, in respect of records relating to the provision, management or operation those services.

What records does the authority cover?

This authority authorises the disposal of functional and certain other common administrative records, created and maintained in any format, by NSW councils and county councils.

It is to be used in conjunction with other general retention and disposal authorities applying to all NSW public offices such as the general authorities for:

Where appropriate coverage of records cannot be found in the General retention and disposal authority: local government records, the relevant entries in the General retention and disposal authority: administrative records can be used.

Date range of records covered

This authority applies to records wholly created after 1920. Records created before 1920 are required to be retained as State archives.

Records covered by normal administrative practice (NAP)

Certain records of a facilitative, ephemeral or duplicate nature can, in prescribed circumstances, be disposed of in accordance with the normal administrative practice (NAP) provisions of the State Records Act without the need of formal approval from State Records. See Guideline 8: Normal administrative practice for further information on what constitutes normal administrative practice in a public office.

Councils should develop internal policies and procedures, based on Schedule 2 of the State Records Regulation 2010, to define and authorise what is meant by normal administrative practice for their organisation, and to identify and document the types of records that are disposed of under this provision of the Act as part of the routinely implemented practices of the organisation.

Collections of private records are exempt

Collections of private records are exempt from this authority under Section 5 of the State Records Act. Collections of private records may be retained or disposed of (including through transfer of ownership or destruction) in accordance with the collecting policy of the organisation and any terms or conditions of deposit without further reference to State Records. This includes collections of private records such as public company records, private associations and clubs, personal papers and family archives that are collected and held by the organisation or bodies subject to the organisation as part of local studies, local archives, library, gallery or museum collections, etc.

Previous disposal authority superseded

This authority supersedes the whole of the General Disposal Authority - Local Government Records (GDA10).

How long is the authority in force?

This authority will remain in force until it is superseded by a new authority or it is withdrawn from use by State Records.

Providing feedback

To suggest amendments or alterations to this authority please contact us via email govrec@records.nsw.gov.au or phone (02) 8247 8627.

Further assistance

State Records provides guidance and training in the use of retention and disposal authorities as well as other aspects of records management. More information is available on our website at www.records.nsw.gov.au/recordkeeping and on the Resources for local government page. Details of training courses are available from our Training Calendar.

To obtain assistance in the interpretation or implementation of this authority, or any of our general retention and disposal authorities, contact us at: disposal@records.nsw.gov.au or (02) 8247 8627.

1.2 Structure and components

Arrangement of entries by function and activity

The entries for the various records covered by this authority are arranged according to the function and activity to which the records relate.

Cross references

Within many function and activity sets there are 'see' references provided, which are to guide the user to related function and activity sets and entries either within the authority or in separate general retention and disposal authorities, e.g. under PERSONNEL - Occupational Health & Safety: 'See CORPORATE MANAGEMENT - Meetings for records relating to meetings of occupational health and safety committees.'

Information components

Within the function and activity sets are tables which identify and describe the various classes of records covered by the authority. Each table includes a number of information components:

Information components Explanation
Reference No. Function, activity and entry identifiers
Each function, activity and entry has a unique number used to identify it. Each number has 3 parts which reflects the hierarchical arrangement of the authority.
Description of records This is a description of the records covered by the particular entry (disposal class). The description often includes examples or a list of the types of records that may be covered in this class. Lists and examples are not indicative of all records that may be covered by the class.
Disposal action A disposal action may either identify records required as State archives ('Required as State archives') or the minimum retention period for which records are required to be maintained by an organisation before their destruction is approved in accordance with the provisions of the State Records Act.

Disposal actions authorising destruction are made up of several parts:

Minimum retention periods
These identify how long the records must be kept as a minimum, e.g. 'retain minimum of 2 years'

Disposal triggers
These identify the event from which the retention period is calculated, e.g. 'after action completed' or 'after expiry of agreement'

Disposal action
This identifies what ultimately should happen to the records, e.g. 'then destroy.'

Note: Records identified as 'Required as State archives' should be transferred to the control of State Records when they are no longer required by an organisation for ongoing business purposes. See 1.3 Guidelines for implementation below for more information.
Notes Notes
Additional information or guidance is sometimes included in a note.

1.3 Guidelines for implementation

Introduction

Implementing retention and disposal authorities ensures that records are retained for appropriate periods of time and are disposed of in a timely, routine and efficient manner. Undertaking sentencing and regular disposal of records ensures that the organisation is not exposed to unnecessary costs for retaining paper and digital records it no longer requires.

Comprehensive information about implementing disposal authorities is found in State Records' guideline Implementing a retention and disposal authority.

Records relating to claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983

Local government agencies responsible for the management of Crown reserves, commons and land that is currently or may potentially be the subject of a claim under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 should ensure records providing evidence of ownership, control and usage of the relevant parcel are retained and not destroyed until a claim has been granted over that parcel of land.

These records could include planning documents or decisions concerning proposed or approved use of the land, surveys, agreements, memorandums, consents and tenure arrangements regarding the following land matters – acquisition, transfers, boundaries, usage, rights of way and easements, leases or licences for any uses/purposes, land/resource management and management of parks and reserves.

Minimum retention periods

The authority specifies minimum retention periods for all records not required as State archives. A council must not destroy or otherwise dispose of records before the minimum retention period has expired. If a council desires to reduce the minimum retention period it must seek specific written approval from State Records. See the section below on Destroying Records on applying caution to the destruction of records.

Councils may retain records for longer periods of time, subject to organisational need, without further reference to State Records.

Retention of digital records

Digital records must be protected and readily accessible for the specified minimum retention period. See the Standard on digital recordkeeping and the guideline on Managing digital records for more information.

Web records

Web records include the content on websites, transactions performed via the web, Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis and social networking systems, as well as any administrative records regarding the website. There is not one specified retention period for all web records, as retention periods differ according to different business needs. For further advice on the management of these records, see State Records' guidelines Keeping web records and Records management and web 2.0.

Email

As with web records, there is not one specified retention period for all emails, as this depends on the Council's business needs. As a rule, emails that are business related should be captured into the organisation's recordkeeping system, and disposed of accordingly. See Managing the message: Guidelines on managing formal and informal communications as records and FAQS: Emails and recordkeeping for more information.

Junk, spam and personal emails can de disposed of under the Normal Administrative Practice provisions of the State Records Act.

Imaged records

Most hard copy originals are authorised for destruction after imaging. See the General retention and disposal authority: imaged records for more information. Guidance about the management of imaged records with long retention periods, such as development applications, is provided in Managing digital records.

Destroying records

When the approved minimum retention period has been reached, appropriate arrangements for the destruction of records may be undertaken without further reference to State Records, unless otherwise advised.

Persons using the authority should apply it with caution, bearing in mind that the approvals for disposal are given in terms of the State Records Act only. It is the responsibility of every council to ensure that all legal and other requirements for retention of records have been met before disposing of any of its records. A council must not destroy records if they are:

  • subject to current or pending legal proceedings
  • subject to an application for access under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009, the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2003 or the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998
  • subject to a Government policy or directive not to be destroyed.

Circulating lists of records proposed to be destroyed to relevant action officers as part of routine procedures prior to any destruction being carried out may assist to ensure these issues are identified.

See Destruction of records and Destroying digital records: when pressing delete is not enough for information on destruction methods and considerations.

Managing records required as State archives

Records which are to be retained as State archives are identified with the disposal action 'Required as State archives'. Records identified in retention and disposal authorities as State archives and no longer in use for official purposes in the public office should be transferred to State Records' control. The transfer of control of records as State archives may, or may not, involve a change in custodial arrangements.

Records can continue to be managed by a council under a distributed management agreement. Councils are encouraged to make arrangements with State Records regarding the management of State archives.

Transferring records identified as State archives and no longer in use for official purposes to State Records' control should be a routine and systematic part of a public office's records management program. If the records are more than 25 years old and are still in use for official purposes, then a 'still in use determination' should be made.

To obtain assistance regarding transferring material as State archives, contact the Senior Archivist, Transfer/Custody at: transfer@records.nsw.gov.au or (02) 9673 1788. For more information concerning entering into a distributed management agreement, contact the Senior Project Officer, Distributed Management at: distributed@records.nsw.gov.au or (02) 9673 1788.

Transfer of ownership must be approved

Regardless of whether a record has been approved for destruction or is required as a State archive, a council must not transfer ownership of a State record to any person or organisation without the explicit authorisation of State Records.

Interpretation of disposal triggers in this authority

It is very important that triggers are appropriately interpreted and understood by those implementing the authority. Sometimes they rely on information from elsewhere in the organisation. Where possible, the organisation should build the recording of the dates or required information into standard records procedures so staff will know, for example, when a file should be marked as inactive or closed. Without this information being recorded, sentencing cannot take place in a streamlined or efficient manner.

After action completed:

This is the most common disposal trigger in the authority. 'Action completed' refers to the final transaction of business, i.e. when all the business for which the record was maintained has been completed and/or the final document is attached to the file and the file is closed. An action does not include a file movement or audit (unless the organisation determines an audit is an action).

In the case of paper-based registers the date of the last entry in the register may be a suitable trigger for when action is completed (providing all actions associated with the matters recorded in the register have been completed). In the case of electronic registers, however, it may be more appropriate to apply the disposal action to individual entries in the register rather than the register as a whole (as the last action on the register as a whole may be indefinite). In this case the trigger can be calculated from the last time an individual entry in the register was updated or amended, or from when the data has become obsolete (i.e. when all the business for which the record was maintained has been completed).

Until administrative or reference use ceases:

This trigger usually applies where ongoing use of the records is likely to be short term, or where ongoing reference use of the records is linked to the conduct of business processes and the determination of appropriate periods for retention relies on an organisation's assessment of its own business needs and uses. This can vary from one organisation to another depending on the nature of its business.

For the purposes of implementing the authority and facilitating the production of reports or triggers for the review of these records as part of a regular disposal program the organisation may wish to define a standard retention period for these types of records. Suitable standard retention periods can be defined through discussions with business units or action officers who use the records.

After expiry or termination:

This trigger is commonly used for contracts, agreements, licences etc. The organisation needs to determine how long this will be, based on the individual circumstances. In the case where there are set periods of operation built into contracts, agreements etc this will be straightforward to convert to an ‘after action completed' trigger. However, any extension of the contract, agreement etc would require a change in the retention period.

After superseded:

This trigger usually relates to policies, procedures etc. The organisation needs to have a mechanism to note when policies, procedures etc are replaced so that the trigger can be applied.

Managing the calculation of triggers and disposal processes

Public offices need to consider and plan how they are to manage the implementation of triggers.  For some it may be possible to automate the process. For example, the date employment ceases may be entered into the public office's human resource management system and automatically applied as an ‘after employment ceases' trigger in the records management system.

If automation is not possible, the development of business rules or procedures may be required to ensure that information is communicated by the relevant business unit to the records management unit so that the trigger is applied.

When disposal dates have been reached, procedures should also be in place to ensure the circulation of lists or details of records proposed for destruction to relevant action officers for internal authorisation and approval before any disposal action takes place. These officers can identify if circumstances have changed, e.g. extensions of contracts or legal cases, which will affect the implementation of disposal decisions and may warrant the retention of records for longer periods as appropriate.

Implementing alternative disposal actions

Some disposal classes provide two or more alternative disposal decisions, depending on the nature of the records (e.g. most classes for records relating to agreements provide a minimum retention period of 12 years for specialty contracts and a minimum retention period of 7 years for standard contracts or agreements). These disposal decisions require the user to apply the correct decision.

To enable the automation of sentencing in electronic systems, all such disposal decisions are labelled with (A), (B) or (C). This letter can be added to the disposal class number in electronic systems, thereby providing a unique identifier for each disposal action.

Major/minor classes in the authority

On some occasions, classes are divided into ‘major', ‘significant' or ‘substantive' versus ‘minor' or ‘routine' records or events. When these classes occur, there are usually examples provided of types of records or events that may fall into each category in order to guide organisations. For example, PERSONNEL - Industrial relations 22.11.1:
‘Records relating to the management of industrial disputes of a significant nature where the organisation is a primary party to the negotiations or resolution of the dispute. Significant disputes can include those:

  • resulting in a strike, ban or lock-out
  • that set precedents, or
  • that result in innovative or contentious changes to working conditions.'

As a guide, the types of events or matters that may be considered to fall within the category of ‘significant' or ‘major' include those that:

  • concern major liabilities or obligations of the organisation
  • relate to the development of legislation, regulations or policies
  • relate to controversial matters (i.e. subject to formal or parliamentary inquiry or intense media scrutiny)
  • have wide community interest
  • otherwise significantly affect the organisation's functions or structure.

1.4 Glossary

State Records has compiled a Glossary of Recordkeeping Terms as part of the Government Recordkeeping Manual.