Legal obligations for transfer

What departments and The National Archives need to do by law

The laws of England and Wales place obligations upon departments and The National Archives for the collection, disposal and preservation of records. Departments are obliged within the Public Records Act 1958 sections 3, 4 and 5 to select, transfer, preserve and make available those records that have been defined as public records. These obligations apply to records in all formats and media, including paper and digital records.

Read the Public Records Act 1958 for more information.

You can also read about the history of the Public Records Act and the public records system today. You can read more on gaining access to public records in Access to public records.

Access to public records (PDF, 0.28Mb)

Freedom of Information Act 2000

Additionally the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) provides a legal obligation on public bodies to make official information available. Under the FOI Act this obligation extends to places of deposit. However there are exemptions within the act where the information being considered has continuing sensitivities and can legitimately not be made available.

The FOI Act also led to the creation of a code of practice, under section 46 on ‘good practice in records management’. It contains guidance on the review and transfer of public records to an archives office for permanent preservation as well as to The National Archives and local places of deposit. Additional guidance on the FOI Act can be found below:

Freedom of Information: Procedures and guidance for public records in places of deposit (PDF, 0.96Mb)

Data Protection Act 1998

The same bodies also have obligations regarding the creation, management and storage of personal information, as defined under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRAG) changed the point at which records created by government departments must be transferred for permanent preservation to 20 years. The CRAG Act also changed some of the FOI exemptions in line with this reduced definition of when a record becomes a historical record.

Transition to the 20 year rule

Transfer of records in accordance with section 3(4) of the Public Records Act 1958

This first table below refers to the transfer of records to The National Archives and places of deposit in accordance with section 3(4) of the Public Records Act 1958 (Public Records Act transition order).

Please note that record categories primarily of local interest and transferring to local authority places of deposit are not within the first commencement.

Date record created*
Record required to transfer by end of calendar year
19842013
1985 2014
19862014
19872015
19882015
19892016
19902016
19912017
19922017
19932018
19942018
19952019
19962019
19972020
19982020
19992021
20002021
20012022

*As defined in 10(2) of the Public Records Act 1958

Transitional arrangements

Expiry of Freedom of Information Act exemptions

The table below shows the expiry of certain Freedom of Information Act exemptions.

Please note that this applies to all information held by all public authorities.

Date of record creation**
Exemptions expire (31 December)
1984 2013
1985 2014
19862014
19872015
19882015
19892016
19902016
19912017
19922017
19932018
19942018
19952019
19962019
19972020
19982020
19992021
20002021
20012022

**As defined in section 62(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000