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Author: Carly Godden
Seven years is the ‘magic figure’ often bandied about when it comes to how long records must be kept by government. However, minimum periods for retention of public records actually vary and are determined by law and Public Record Office Victoria.
There are a lot mistruths associated with the seven year mark.
It’s often said that seven years of a dog’s lifetime is equivalent to one year in a human’s, or that separation rates peak seven years into a romantic relationship (the so called seven year itch!).
But the wisdom that all records, whether they are created by business or government, only need to be kept for a seven period, is a pretty sound assumption, right? WRONG!
Despite the best efforts of records management professionals everywhere, the ‘seven year rule’ is a myth which continues to dominate perceptions of the minimum periods required to retain public records. This fallacy has probably evolved from requirements to keep financial records for seven year periods under various laws, perhaps most notably section 286 of the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001.
Our record keeping responsibilities
In some cases, legislation will prescribe retention periods for certain types of records. For example, under the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 the principal registrar of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal must keep a file of all documents lodged in a proceeding for a period of five years after the final determination of the proceeding.
However for public records kept by government, the legal requirement to retain records for set periods of time is determined by Retention and Disposal Authorities (RDAs), which are created by Public Record Office Victoria.
RDAs are designed to take account of the relative legal, financial, transparency, historical and other values of records over time, which will vary considerably depending on the type of record.
All current RDAs are available on Public Record Office Victoria’s website in the document library.
While RDAs prescribe different retention periods for records, they can be categorised under four general classes:
- ephemera, drafts and duplicates can be destroyed as soon as administrative use has finished
- temporary short term records must be held for two – ten years on average
- temporary long term records and permanent records must be held for up to 75 years on average
- permanent records can never be destroyed and must be transferred to Public Record Office Victoria as State Archives.
If in doubt about whether to bin a document or how long a record should be kept for, it’s best to consult your records manager for advice. Because remember, just like diamonds, some records are forever!