Government and Information Rights Directorate: COVID-19 information hub for public record bodies

This hub is intended to provide guidance and support for government departments and other public bodies subject to the Public Records Act during this pandemic. This hub was last updated on 26 February 2021.

We understand that those working in records and information management may have concerns about how they can continue to meet their statutory obligations, so we have brought together our most frequently asked questions and advice in one place to support you in this. This page is being regularly updated and maintained.

If your query is not covered below or you have further questions, please contact us at GovernmentHelpPoint@nationalarchives.gov.uk.

Update to The National Archives’ services for the public

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of plans to ease lockdown across England, we are seeking clarification on what this means for archives and our plans for re-opening our public reading rooms and services. Once we have this we’ll share more details.

Some of our online services that rely on staff having access to our building and collections are suspended until further notice, and new visitor bookings are temporarily suspended until we are able to open our reading rooms again.

Please note that our Freedom of Information services are also affected.

Most of our online services are unaffected however and will continue as normal. Our news story gives the latest details on the status of our services.

We are endeavouring to provide a case by case service to government departments and other public record bodies that require urgent access to physical documents specifically supporting the Government’s response to COVID-19. Please see the specific FAQ below for details.

20-year rule and transition planning – support

If you would like to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on your current transition timetable and planning (including support for any retention applications to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives), please contact us via our Government Help Point.

Departmental plans for transfer and release – support

We are continuing to support the development of catalogue lists and other pre-transfer documentation. Transfer plans should be made or revised to take account of delays to activities caused by the current situation. If you would like to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on your current transition timetable and planning (including support for any retention applications to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives), please contact us via our Government Help Point.

Paper transfers to The National Archives (up to date as of 26 February 2021)

The National Archives is continuing to provide limited services to government while protecting our staff and ensuring social distancing, in line with UK government guidance. Please contact governmenttransfers@nationalarchives.gov.uk if you have a transfer in progress or if you propose starting one.

If your query is not covered below or you have further questions, please contact us via our Government Help Point.

Are you accepting paper transfers?

We are continuing to provide the limited transfer arrangements implemented in August 2020. Transfers will be accepted with a minimum of one week’s notice following completion of all the necessary transfer documentation. Please contact governmenttransfers@nationalarchives.gov.uk.

Digital Transfer

Please contact us via governmenttransfers@nationalarchives.gov.uk if you have digital records you would like to discuss.

Services for Inquests, Inquiries and Investigations

If you are a government inquiry or are aware of a collection at risk, please contact our Government Help Point.

We are endeavouring to provide services for inquests, inquiries and investigations. This includes working with you on any access requests. Please email your specific requirements to our Government Help Point and we will work to support you as best we can.

Services relating to COVID-19 access to original documents

We are endeavouring to provide a service to government departments and other public record bodies that require urgent access to documents specifically supporting the Government’s response to COVID-19.

If your department or minister has an urgent document request relating specifically to supporting the Government’s response to COVID-19, please email the document reference number (if known) outlining your request to our Government Help Point and we will use our best endeavours to provide access. We will discuss with you the format and means by which we can provide access on a case by case basis.

Can I access closed records?

We are endeavouring to provide a service to government departments and other public record bodies that require urgent access to documents specifically supporting the Government’s response to COVID-19.

Please email the document reference number (if known) outlining your request to our Government Help Point and we will use our best endeavours to provide access. We will discuss with you the format and means by which we can provide access on a case by case basis.

Can you send me original documents?

We are not currently providing services for dispatch and return of documents. If you have any specific issues in relation to this please contact us via our Government Help Point.

Can you send me scans of records that I need to review?

We are not currently providing this service. If you have any specific issues in relation to this please contact us via our Government Help Point.

Records currently on requisition

We are not able to accept the return of records on requisition at the moment. We thank you for your continued patience. Please contact us via our  Government Help Point to discuss further.

If I currently cannot transfer my records, can I still apply to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives to retain them?

Yes, we encourage government departments and other bodies to maintain their legal compliance by continuing to make applications for retention to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives.

The Advisory Council continues to meet remotely and will endeavour to consider schedules and papers in accordance with their usual timetable. If you need further advice on your retention applications email us at scheduleapplications@nationalarchives.gov.uk.

Will The National Archives be updating the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives with regard to the situation with transfer of records to The National Archives and Places of Deposit?

The National Archives is working with the Advisory Council Secretariat to ensure that the Advisory Council and its members are updated on the current situation regarding COVID-19 restrictions and their impact on transfer planning.

What’s happening at Places of Deposit?

Detailed guidance on Place of Deposit arrangements at this time can be found at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/our-archives-sector-role/coronavirus-update/information-for-places-of-deposit/.

If you have any further enquiries, please email asd@nationalarchives.gov.uk.

Are you capturing the Government response to COVID-19?

Through our web archiving capability we are continuing to archive all key communications from the Government about COVID-19 as part of the public record. This includes GOV.UK, NHS.UK and government communications on social media.

As an event of significant international interest, we would expect departments and other bodies to appraise and select records relating to COVID-19 for permanent preservation in line with their responsibilities under the Public Records Act.

Are there any safety precautions that I should be taking or planning around physical records?

Please continue to care for your records in the usual way. However, if you have any specific treatment concerns, please email our Government Help Point and we will work with you on a case by case basis.

What is the impact to the Freedom of Information service and The National Archives’ Section 66 responsibilities?

We are continuing to accept Freedom of Information requests, but – depending on the type of the inquiry – our response may be delayed, possibly until The National Archives re-opens. Processing of FOI requests for our archival collections will be slower than normal; the main limitation on our service and ability to address requests relates to lack of access to the physical collection during this time.

We are continuing to consult with government departments and other public record bodies with regards to FOIAs for historical records, which we can progress at this current time and we will liaise with our main contacts to understand how to manage the limitations.

We have already implemented new ways of working (agreements – MOUs) to account for the restrictions that remain in place, and we hope that this will help us to successfully conclude more FOIAs within compliance. Longer term, we will continue to look to implement more solutions that allow us to continue to work remotely on a regular basis; for example, providing more information digitally to account for these changing working practices.

We will continue to consult the guidance issued by Information Commissioner’s Office.

Further information from the Information Commissioner and the Scottish Information Commissioner on COVID-19 can be found at:

Freedom of Information: https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/icos-blog-on-its-information-rights-work/

Data Protection: https://ico.org.uk/global/data-protection-and-coronavirus-information-hub/

Scottish Information Commissioner: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/Latest_news.aspx

What is happening with training, events and user groups?

We have been able to deliver training through the GKIM bite-size sessions and our e-learning is available via our website. Our M365 and Google Government Knowledge and Information Management (GKIM) user groups continue to operate virtually. Notifications have been sent out via our usual channels. For further information please contact our Government Help Point.