Information about The National Archives’ records that have been borrowed by government departments and not returned

FOI request reference: F0051384
Publication date: February 2018


I read an article in the guardian over Christmas regarding record’s that had been borrowed by various government departments and not returned. I’m studying for an undergraduate degree and would like to enquire as to whether anyone could advise me on what records were borrowed and concerning what particular issues.

The article did outline a few; seizure of Russian state assets following the 1917 revolution, northern Ireland etc, but I would just like to know more. Also, are there any freedom of information issues related to this issue?




I can confirm that The National Archives holds information relevant to your request.

It might be useful to you if I first explain government departments’ requirements for accessing records and their responsibilities when doing so under Section 4(6) of the Public Records Act 1958.  Government departments can request the return of records for the conduct of official business, for a loan or exhibition or for publication. In some cases, a large number of records will be recalled for the purposes of preparing for a public inquiry.    Under the Public Records Act, departments are temporarily responsible for loaned records in their care.

At the current time there are 543 records listed as ‘misplaced whilst on loan to government department.’ A detailed list is published on our transparency pages and can be found at the following web address:

Please note that this list also includes records listed as “missing”.

The National Archives has been providing public access to the collection since the 1850s. The Missing list on the Discovery catalogue represents everything that we know to be misfiled at Kew or misplaced in departments from then onwards.

We do not share details of who makes a specific recall request, but can advise that it is normally the originating department.  Any department recalling records that are not their own will require authorisation from the originating department.

All orders from other government departments must come via an authorised requestor.  A list of authorised requestors is held by The National Archives and updated each year.  Orders are submitted using an online or electronic document request form, and tracked throughout by our document retrieval system. Confirmation messages for the receipt and return of all records are archived in our electronic storage system.  We also print and keep paper records of each order and return.

The National Archives sends out a list of all outstanding records to each department twice a year.  This communication requests confirmation that the records are still with that department, and the return of the records.  If records are still in use, the department submit a business case for their continuing requirement.

There is no specific limit on how long a record can be recalled.  Neither is there any specific limit on production of records to government departments, in the same way that there is no limit on production of records to readers. Departments are encouraged not to recall original records unless there is a genuine need, and use alternatives where possible.

The National Archives often provide copies to government departments and we are increasing the proportion of orders fulfilled in this manner.

We are also providing alternative methods to avoid other departments needing to recall original records offsite. This includes a greater proportion of copies, and use the Government Reading Room to view records onsite at The National Archives.  We are also currently trialling provision of digital copies via secure delivery platforms.

Freedom of Information

There is further information on our website regarding Freedom of Information requests: