Records disposal schedules

Not all papers of a “public nature” are worthy of preserving permanently. All papers created in, or received by, organisations have to be examined in order that those which are of no administrative or historical value are not permanently preserved in high-cost storage.

Schedules for disposing records

The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has identified records which they want to preserve.

Some records have been selected for review to give both the organisation and PRONI the chance to determine their value.

As medical technologies and care advances are made PRONI wish to preserve records of individually significant cases.

These records should be identified at the earliest point and marked in some distinctive way to ensure they are transferred to PRONI after the minimum retention period has elapsed.

Records selected by PRONI for permanent preservation and no longer in use by the organisation should be transferred as soon as possible to PRONI.

The 1923 PRA established the normal point of transfer as 20 years.

A disposal Schedule is the key document in a records management system which:

  • enables the Organisation to meet legislative requirements
  • outlines the types of records held within an Organisation
  • outlines the associated legislative/policy guidance framework
  • identifies the minimum period for which records should be retained
  • outlines the action required when the minimum retention period has been reached
  • Disposal schedules define the minimum length of time specific types of records have to be retained before being reviewed, destroyed or transferred to PRONI.

Records fall into four main categories of action:

  • records to be destroyed after an agreed period (for example, a file containing receipts for registered and recorded delivery mail is retained for two years following the financial year to which they relate and then destroyed)
  • records selected for permanent preservation by PRONI
  • records to be reviewed
  • records which are required to be kept permanently in the organisation that is, benefactions, where the benefactory endowment trust fund/capital remains permanent

Files with specified destruction dates included in the Disposal Schedule should be destroyed according to the agreed instructions.

There are four options when the minimum retention period has been reached:


The appraisal of records to determine if there is a continuing business need and to determine if they are required for historical or research purposes.

Retain permanently

This occurs rarely but it is necessary where organisations need to retain records permanently for business administrative need.

Permanent preservation

PRONI have decided these records are of long-term historical research value and must be transferred to PRONI.


Records considered to have no continuing business/legal value and are of no historical or research value to PRONI.

PRONI have the final decision on the preservation of records.

They are particularly interested in:

  • unpublished administrative histories – development of organisational structure – useful road map for researchers
  • policy files – decision making process
  • business plans – enactment of policy through targets, etcetera
  • inspection reports – delivery of services on the ground
  • annual reports – targets met, events, etcetera
  • precedent files – departures from the normal
  • Patient/Client records of significant cases

PRONI will not make records available to the public until consultation has taken place with the functionally Responsible Authority on whether they can be opened.

Where a file contains an access decision RONI will be able to apply that decision on transfer to the archives. 

Process for the preparation and laying of Disposal Schedules

Legislation requires that  the Minister of the Department for Communities must arrange for the preparation of disposal schedules which are to be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Information Management Branch in the DoH will co-ordinate a process to lay GMGR before the Assembly on behalf of the following organisations:

  • DoH
  • HSC Board
  • Public Health Agency (PHA)
  • Business Services Organisation (BSO)
  • HSC Trusts
  • Patient and Client Council (PCC)
  • Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA)
  • Guardian AD Litem Agency
  • Blood Transfusion Service
  • Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service
  • Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC)
  • Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council for Nursing and Midwifery (NIPEC)
  • Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA)

Chief executives will be asked to provide the DoH Permanent Secretary with a statement confirming that the organisation adopts GMGR as its disposal schedule.

The Permanent Secretary will forward GMGR to PRONI asking the minister of Department for Communities to lay it before the Assembly.

Once PRONI is in receipt of schedule and the appropriate signatories page, a submission will be sent to the Department  Minister as Keeper of the Records.

PRONI officials lay GMGR by sending copies to the Assembly Business Office on behalf of the Department for Communities Minister.

In the unlikely event that an organisation does not wish to endorse GMGR as its disposal schedule it should inform PRONI that a disposal schedule is being drawn up and they will assist the organisation.

The name and contact details of the officer appointed to work with them should be given to PRONI.

The DoH Departmental Information Manager should also be informed as they will need to ascertain why the organisation does not wish to endorse GMGR.  

The member of staff with lead responsibility for records management should be responsible for the preparation of such Disposal Schedules.

Disposal Schedules should outline all classes of records created by the organisation.

PRONI provide guidelines on the development and requirements of Disposal Schedules.

All Disposal Schedules should be agreed with PRONI.

Once the schedule is agreed it should be signed by the member of staff responsible for records management and the officer in PRONI.

Every schedule signed as above shall be submitted to the Departmental Information Manager in the DoH for the approval of the head of the Department, i.e. Permanent Secretary.

Every schedule approved by the Minister of Department for Communities, acting as Keeper of the Records, shall be laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Files and records of like nature to those covered by the Schedule will be deemed to be included, notwithstanding any technical discrepancy in a name given to them.

The disposal and retention schedule for a public authority will remain valid unless there is a transfer of functions from one authority to another or until such times as the Department undertakes a review.

Any resulting changes must be discussed and agreed with PRONI before the revised schedule is signed and laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The operation of the Disposal Schedule will only be successful if staff are aware of their records management responsibilities.

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