This page contains questions and answers regarding disposal, including business classification schemes. It will be added to as questions arise. These are short and general answers - please contact us for more detailed responses.

How long do we keep records for?

The statutory requirements for how long records need to be kept are set out in retention and disposal authorities approved by our Board. These can be found on Records retention and disposal authorities.

There is no one place where you can find out how long records should be kept. NSW State Archives and Records only has jurisdiction over organisations covered by the State Records Act 1998 (e.g. NSW Government departments and agencies, and State-owned corporations, local health districts, local government councils, and universities) in relation to the disposal of records.

Private organisations and individuals should consult any legislation, regulations and standards that are relevant to them, and can choose to be guided by our retention and disposal authorities if it is helpful. More common records such as finance and personnel records are covered by one of our general authorities.  We would also suggest confirming retention and disposal requirements with your legal provider.

Please note: if the private sector organisation is contracted to provide services for NSW Government, the contract or agreement with the NSW Government will contain requirements for the creation, management, access to, and disposal of records.

Can public offices dispose of records received in error?

Yes. Examples of records received in error that we have been asked about include:

  • emails or attachments to emails that were sent in error

  • a signed petition sent to the wrong public office

  • private medical records that were not requested by a local health district.

Records received in error by a public office do not usually meet the definition of being a State record as they do not relate to the exercise of official functions. They can be returned or deleted from systems if requested, but a record should be made that the documents were received in error and what action was taken, and procedures should be put in place to deal with these instances. These sorts of scenarios can also be incorporated into the public offices' Normal Administrative Practice guidelines.

Can public offices dispose of personal records?

The answer depends on the context. Examples of personal records include the following:

Personal emails

Personal emails sent to the email system of a public office do not meet the definition of being a State record as they do not relate to official business. Please note that this does not mean that they are not subject to GIPAA (they are), or that they are personal property. If they are received on business systems they are the property of the public office. Guidance should be put in place to manage personal emails on official systems.

Personal records that are with public offices as the owner does not have the means to store them

The personal records of care leavers (birth certificates, greeting cards etc) would fall into this category as their movements within the out of home care system meant that their personal records often ended up on their case files for safe keeping. These records are personal records and can be returned to the owner.

Personal records submitted to an inquiry

​Personal records submitted to an inquiry form part of the records of the inquiry and are State records. However, these items can be scanned and the digital version retained as the official record. The original can then be returned if requested. This is consistent with practices such as those relating to original wills that are submitted to the Supreme Court as part of a probate application. The Court will return the original will (if requested) and retain a copy.

Records created by a public office about a person

Records created by public offices about a person in the course of official business are State records and are subject to the State Records Act, even when they are of a personal nature such as patient records. Although these records are about a person they are not owned by the person and cannot be disposed of before the minimum retention periods have been met in records retention and disposal authorities issued by NSW State Archives and Records. Section 25 of the Privacy and Personal Information Act permits the retention of personal information to comply with the State Records Act.

This is not an exhaustive list – please email if you need further advice.

How long do I need to retain email messages for?

There is no blanket retention period for email messages. Like all records, their retention period will be determined by the business activities and transactions they document rather than their format.

Email messages need to be managed as business records when they are part of a business process. It is the nature of the business or activity that they relate to that would determine how they are managed and how long they are retained.

There are of course many email messages that do not need to be retained for long, such as simple communications about office events, non-business or personal messages, spam etc.

How long do I need to retain voice recordings for?

Voice recordings are records of your organisation’s business activities and decisions about how long to keep them for must be based on how they are used by your organisation.

If your organisation uses voice recordings to support short term customer service objectives and to monitor service standards, they only need to be kept for as long as this business need exists – probably a few months. There are specific references to these types of records in the General retention and disposal authority: administrative records and the General retention and disposal authority: local government records.

Local government often records meetings of Council to assist in the compilation of minutes - these are covered in the General retention and disposal authority: local government records.

More significant recordings might need to be retained much longer, depending on your organisation’s business needs for them. For example, emergency services call recordings have different retention requirements depending on the agency, the nature of the incident, and whether or not they may be required as evidence. The functional retention and disposal authority for your agency should be checked.

Can we destroy records after scanning? 

The majority of records can be destroyed after scanning or digitisation provided that quality assurance has been carried out and that the digital versions are retained for the minimum retention periods set out in our approved retention and disposal authorities.   

Public offices covered by the State Records Act 1998 (eg NSW Government departments and agencies, state-owned corporations, local health districts, local government councils, and universities) should consult the General retention and disposal authority: Original or source records that have been copied (GA45) for further advice.   

The following are excluded from the operations of GA45:   

  • State archives created prior to 1980  
  • audiovisual records required as State archives 
  • records of high personal value to individuals such as care leavers 
  • records subject to a legislative or government policy requirement that the original record not be destroyed, eg, letters patent signed by the Governor of New South Wales 
  • records that are considered to have intrinsic value in their original format, eg, records that have a cultural, iconic, heritage or aesthetic value as a physical artefact.  

Please note that our retention and disposal authorities do not apply to private organisations and individuals.  

Does State Records provide software loadable versions of its disposal authorities?

No.We do not provide or sell versions for loading into TRIM, Objective, etc.  

We provide Excel and XML versions of the retention and disposal authorities. Send us an email at if you require an XML version of any of the authorities.

FAQs on retention and disposal authorities and business classification schemes (BCS):

Does NSW State Archives and Records approve business classification schemes?

No. We do not regulate or approve business classification schemes (BCS).

We recommend development and use of a BCS to assist the management of records and information within the organisation. The decision to develop and use a BCS, and determining the hierarchical structure and terminology of a business classification scheme or taxonomy, are up to the agency.

Will there be a one-to-one relationship between a BCS and a functional retention and disposal authority for my agency?

No. It is not necessary to implement a one-to-one relationship between the structure and terminology of an agency’s BCS and the structure and terminology used in a functional retention and disposal authority.

Your agency needs to create an implementation plan to map its BCS terminology to the relevant corresponding function and activity terms used in the functional authority.

Imposing strict one-to-one hierarchical links from a retention and disposal authority to structure a classification scheme (and vice versa) can complicate its usage by making it long and cumbersome for users to navigate (e.g. by repetitively reproducing similar classes with the same retention and disposal outcome under every activity term).

To assist in streamlining a functional authority and making it easier for users to understand and interpret, it may be beneficial to consider combining terms in the authority in instances where the analysis of recordkeeping requirements has identified similar or equivalent retention and disposal outcomes for the same activities. 

State Records NSW does not create implementation plans for agencies nor does it require development or submission. 

We have just updated our BCS, do we need to also update our functional retention and disposal authority so that the function/activity terms in the authority match the BCS?

No. An agency may review and update its BCS to reflect more current terminology:

  • This does not necessarily mean that the agency needs to update and resubmit its functional retention and disposal authority to NSW State Archives and Records for approval.
  • If the agency has updated its BCS to reflect current terminology but the nature of the functions and activities carried out by the organisation haven’t fundamentally changed, then the agency does not need to update and resubmit the functional authority for approval.

You may need to update your functional authority if, in the process of revising and updating the BCS you have identified that the organisation’s functions and activities are no longer comprehensively covered by the authority.

Contact NSW State Archives and Records to discuss before undertaking any substantial review or redrafting of the authority. 

Recordkeeping Advice