Disposal and releases of documents at The National Archives

FOI request reference: F0058821
Publication date: September 2019



Request & Response

1.) Whether the National Archives disposes of any materials stored in its archives, if so how?

The National Archives takes all practicable steps to preserve the records transferred to us, in line with our responsibilities under the Public Records Act 1958. Section 6 of the Act provides for the destruction of records under certain circumstances, with the approval of the Secretary of State and the Minister or other person most closely responsible for the body which created the records.  This applies specifically in the case of records which are found to be duplicates but also allows for records to be destroyed “for some other special reason”. This might include when the medium used to create the record becomes a danger to the public, itself or the rest of the collection, such as nitrate microfilm or images which after a certain point of decay may self-combust, or hazardous materials such as asbestos samples being held within records. There may also be cases where original records have degraded or been damaged or contaminated to such an extent that long term preservation is not viable.  In such circumstances we will endeavour to make photographic or digital copies before disposal takes place. Depending upon the nature of the hazard a decision on the appropriate method of destruction will be taken in conjunction with our Collection Care Department and the National Archives Health and Safety Officer and procedures, outlined in The National Archives’ Hazardous Materials in TNA Collections Policy will be followed.

If we have a non-original copy of a record (typically in paper or microfilm format created to preserve the original) and have replaced the copy with either a newer version or a digitised version we will consider whether the  now redundant copy would be of use to another archive or academic institution. If no offers are forthcoming the copy will be disposed of via our confidential waste contractors. The original record will always remain in the collection regardless of any copies made. Our Archive Sector Development department has an overseeing role in the UK archives sector and will approach other archives or academic organisations to see if the copies are of interest. Physical materials such as furniture, old computers or chairs that are still serviceable are donated to a central government body which makes these items available to charities. We occasionally sort through our library collection and anything no longer required is made available to staff and members of the public onsite.

2.) Whether the National Archives releases documents permanently or temporarily to members of the public who are genealogically connected to subjects of documents held by the National Archives, if so, what is the procedure to request this?

No member of the public, regardless of any genealogical connection, is allowed to remove original records from The National Archives, either temporarily or permanently. Any member of the public is welcome to visit The National Archives and view open records in our reading rooms. If a visit is not possible, or a member of the public would like extra assistance, a researcher can be hired to access the record on the individual’s behalf. The National Archives is also able, upon request, to make copies of open documents for a fee. Please see the following webpages for more information:

Visiting The National Archives: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/visit-us/

Record Copying: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/record-copying/

Paid Research: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/paying-for-research/

In the case of closed records a requester can submit a request for access under the Freedom of Information Act. If the request is successful the record will become available in our reading rooms for any member of the public who wishes to view it. If unsuccessful the record will remain closed but the reasoning behind the decision to close the record will be explained to the requester. Please visit the following webpage for more information.