Missing records

FOI request reference: F0051254
Publication date: January 2018

Request

Please state which archives are missing and when and who took them out from which department.
What records are kept of who is taking documents out and when they are returning them?
What efforts are made to chase up documents that should be returned?
How long are documents allowed to be taken out for?
How often are originals allowed to be taken out?
Why are copies not made to be taken out or to keep a copy if the document should go missing?
What changes are being made to ensure that valuable archive documents do not go missing?

Outcome

Successful

Response

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.

Please state which archives are missing and when and who took them out from which department.

543 records are currently 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: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/our-role/transparency/misplaced-items/
We do not share details of who makes a specific requisition, but can advise that it is normally the originating department.  Any department requesting records that are not their own will require authorisation from the originating department.

What records are kept of who is taking documents out and when they are returning them?

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 (DORIS.) Confirmation messages for the receipt and return of all records are archived in our electronic storage system (Objective). We also print and keep paper records of each order and return.

What efforts are made to chase up documents that should be returned?

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.

How long are documents allowed to be taken out for?

There is no specific limit on how long a record can be requisitioned, but requisitions are treated as ‘outstanding’ after 6 months from production.

How often are originals allowed to be taken out?

There is no 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 requisition original records unless there is a genuine need, and use alternatives where possible.

Why are copies not made to be taken out or to keep a copy if the document should go missing?

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

What changes are being made to ensure that valuable archive documents do not go missing?

We are providing alternative methods to avoid other departments needing to requisition original records offsite. This includes a greater proportion of copies, and use of 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.