Coronavirus update for government departments and other public record bodies

This hub, created by the Government and Information Rights Directorate, is intended to provide guidance and support for government departments and other public bodies subject to the Public Records Act during these unprecedented times.

We understand that those working in records and information management may have concerns about how they can continue to meet their statutory obligations over the coming weeks and months, so we have brought together our most ‘frequently asked questions’ in one place to support you in this. This page will be updated regularly as the situation with COVID-19 develops.

If your query is not covered below or you have further questions, please contact us at Government Help Point, which remains operational.

How can I comply with the Public Records Act and the transition to the 20-year rule?

We are taking a reasonable and pragmatic approach to Public Records Act compliance. The Keeper of Public Records has suspended all incoming paper transfers to The National Archives until further notice. However, if there are preparatory activities such as cataloguing that can be carried out remotely, then public record bodies should endeavour to continue with these wherever possible.

We are not planning to seek a suspension of the transition timetable at this stage. In due course, we will assess the impact of the current situation and support public record bodies to address it.

Can I make a digital transfer?

Digital transfers have been suspended at this time.

I am closing down a government inquiry or I am aware of a collection at risk – what should I do?

Please contact our Government Help Point.

If I can’t 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 is putting remote working in place 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.

My departmental plans for transfer and release will be affected by the closure of The National Archives to the public – what should I do?

Transfer plans should be made or revised to take account of delays to activities caused by the current situation.

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 affecting transfers due to COVID-19 restrictions.

What’s happening at Places of Deposit?

In response to government guidance, the organisations that manage Places of Deposit have closed to the public, reduced on site operations and curtailed services. More detailed guidance on Place of Deposit arrangements and safeguarding collections during this period of closure is available at https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/our-archives-sector-role/coronavirus-update/.

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 archiving 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.

I need access to records held at The National Archives because of an inquiry, inquest or police investigation – can you help?

We are endeavouring to provide services for inquests, inquiries and investigations where this can be achieved safely. Please email your specific requirements to our Government Help Point and we will work to support you as best we can.

I am from a government department or other public record body and I need access to records held at The National Archives – can you help?

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 make our best effort to provide access. We will discuss with you the format and means by which we can provide access on a case by case basis.

I currently have records on requisition which are due for return or soon will be – can I send them back to you?

No, the Keeper of Public Records has suspended all incoming paper transfers to The National Archives until further notice. This includes the return of requisitioned records.

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

At this time we are not recommending any specific action in respect of treating, deep-cleaning or handling 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 nature of the enquiry – our response may be delayed, possibly until The National Archives re-opens. The main limitation on our service and ability to address requests relates to restricted access to the physical collection during this time.

For Freedom of Information requests relating to historical records, we will continue to consult with government departments and other public record bodies in the usual way.

The Information Commissioner’s Office have now published a statement on their regulatory approach, which includes their expectations around handling Freedom of Information requests and ICO complaints.

Freedom of Information:

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

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?

On site training and events are on hold but e-learning is available via our website. Our O365 and G-Suite 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.