20th February, 2017

I hate paper mountains. I am in fact queen of the shredding bag wherever possible. It can therefore only be a good thing that increasingly, banks, energy providers, insurers, etc. are all providing the option for ‘digital-only’ records. You can now opt to get your bank statements online, or get energy bills via email (which you can then pay online, leaving no physical paper trail). However, many of us still have paper bank statements, receipts and general paperwork from years ago, squirrelled away in filing cabinets, lever-arch files, or in shoe-boxes under the bed. How long should we really keep hold of these documents for and when are we safe to shred? 

According to the HMRC, private individuals (not self-employed) should keep documents for 22 months after the end of the tax year , whereas if you run a company, you should keep documents for 5 years after the January following the end of the tax year (so roughly 6 years). HMRC also recommend that VAT records are kept for 6 years, and 10 years if you use the VAT MOSS system. If you need to apply for benefits, etc. in the future, it may be handy to have original documents (bank statements, loan agreements, etc.) to hand, as some agencies will not accept photocopies unless they have been verified by the bank, etc. (i.e. with a seriously retro hand-stamp and signature).

One thing to consider if you are ‘going digital’ with your personal and work documents is to ensure that the data is held and backed up securely. If you hold personal data or ‘sensitive data’ about other individuals as part of your work, you need to ensure that you meet the criteria imposed by the Data Protection Act 1998, and it is strongly recommend that you are registered with the Information Commissioners Office. For more information, visit www.ico.org.uk.


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[1] https://www.gov.uk/keeping-your-pay-tax-records/how-long-to-keep-your-records

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/self-employed-records/how-long-to-keep-your-records



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