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 Friday 25 September 2020.

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

From Tuesday 21 July 2020 The National Archives began welcoming back visitors into our public reading rooms. We are currently offering a limited service to our public visitors who need access to our collection of original documents for their research. Visitors will be required to book their visit and order their documents in advance. The National Archives regularly reviews our public services and we have increased our capacity and services since our initial re-opening in July. See our news story for updates to our public services.

The use of face covering – up-to-date advice when visiting The National Archives

Due to a change in the law, all visitors will be required to wear face coverings during their visit.

We will review these arrangements regularly to ensure that they continue to meet government guidance.

We confirm we have complied with the government’s guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19, and have also now received the We’re Good to Go mark – the UK’s official mark that shows we are following all government and public health guidance to create a safe and clean environment for everyone.

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

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.

Resumption of transfers to The National Archives (updated 28 July 2020)

The National Archives is continuing to operate on a reduced basis due to COVID-19. As a first step to resuming our services to government while protecting our staff and ensuring social distancing in line with UK government guidance, we are introducing temporary delivery arrangements for new transfers.

Planning for the resumption of other services to government is continuing on an ongoing basis as government guidance and constraints on staffing, space and working arrangements permit.

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

When are you going to start accepting transfers?

Temporary arrangements for a limited resumption of transfers will take effect from 3 August 2020.  Transfers will be accepted with a minimum of one week’s notice following completion of the necessary transfer documentation.

What are the temporary arrangements?

  • Uplifts will only be accepted with a minimum of one week’s prior agreement for delivery on a Monday or Wednesday.
  • A distance of two metres between National Archives staff and delivery operatives must be maintained at all times.
  • All deliveries should either be secured in cages or palletised.
  • The delivery contractor should unload the cages/pallets and deposit them on the loading bay deck if the vehicle has a suitable tail lift.
  • If the vehicle doesn’t have a tail lift, the delivery should be lowered to the ground and moved at least two meters away from the vehicle.
  • If a fork lift truck is required, departments should inform The National Archives when arranging the delivery.
  • Staff from The National Archives will not sign delivery slips but will provide their name to the delivery contractor, who may take a photograph of the loading bay if required.
  • Once the cages or pallets have been unloaded the driver and vehicle should leave the loading bay before National Archives staff move the delivery into the building.

Why are you putting extra constraints on arrangements for uplift dates?

The need to ensure safe distancing and comply with government guidance on safe working means that we are working at reduced staffing levels within adapted working spaces. This means that activities need to be closely planned and controlled.

Why are you insisting on transfers being caged or palletised?

Arranging deliveries in this way will minimise handling and physical interaction, reducing the risk of staff being exposed to infection. If you have any specific issues in relation to this please contact the Government Help Point.

Do you have any specific requirements for pallets?

We are working on the basis of standard Euro-Pallets measuring 1200 x 800 mm.

Do our delivery operatives have to wear masks/PPE in order to be admitted to Kew?

We would expect all delivery staff to operate in accordance with UK government guidance on social distancing and safe working, including the new rules on wearing face coverings in public areas implemented on 25 September.

How long are these temporary arrangements going to remain in place?

We will be keeping this under review as we learn how to scale up our operations in this area safely and in a controlled manner.

How can I access closed records?

The Government Reading Room is available for use at The National Archives. Please contact Government Orders to arrange a visit.

Can you send me original documents?

We are not yet resuming services for dispatch and return of documents. We are continuously reviewing our staffing and service provision as circumstances around COVID-19 change, and will keep you updated about further developments as things progress. When these services resume, the safeguarding arrangements put in place in September 2018 will apply.

You will be able to requisition original records under exceptional circumstances with the authority of your Permanent Secretary or Accounting Officer. Requisitioned records will only be sent to government offices or business premises, not to home addresses.

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

We are not yet resuming services for scanning records. We are continuously reviewing our staffing and service provision as circumstances around COVID-19 change and will keep you updated about further developments as things progress.

When these services resume the safeguarding arrangements put in place in September 2018 will apply. You will be able to request digital copies of both open and closed records, which will be delivered electronically via a secure data transfer solution, Egress. As required by HM Treasury, digital copies will be provided on a cost-recovery basis in line with our Fees Order.

Digital Transfer

Please contact us via our Government Help Point if you have digital records you would like to transfer.

Records on requisition – current situation

We are not able to accept the return of records on requisition at the moment. We thank you for your continued patience and ask for your understanding in the coming weeks as we learn how to scale up our operations in this area safely and in a controlled manner. 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 and impact affecting known transfers due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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 continuing to provide services for inquests, inquiries and investigations. This includes working with you on any access requests. Again, please email your specific requirements to our Government Help Point and we will work to support you as needed.

Services relating to COVID-19 access to original documents

We continue 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 continue to assist with access requirements.

What’s happening at Places of Deposit?

In response to government guidance, the organisations that manage Places of Deposit closed to the public in March, reduced on site operations and curtailed services. Some places of deposit in England are re-opening to the public from July; however, significant restrictions on services remain and the capacity to receive transfers is still very limited.

Places of deposit in Wales remain closed pending an announcement by Welsh Government on the easing of restrictions.

More detailed guidance on Place of Deposit arrangements, safeguarding collections during closure and planning for re-opening is available at 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 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.

For the collection of original records at The National Archives, we have implemented a quarantine period of 72 hours before and after the documents have been handled and between reader requests. We have also introduced changes to how members of the public access documents by introducing an advanced booking in system. Original documents are now being delivered to individuals on a trolley (rather than in our normal document lockers) – this is so that we can minimise human contact before the documents reach members of the public. Additionally, when consultation of the original documents is complete, we quarantine these documents for a period of time before returning them to our repositories.

Will digital records still be free to download from your website when you re-open?

We are continuing to provide free downloads of our digital collection for the time being, as we are initially only able to reopen our reading rooms for a very limited number of researchers. We will continue to review this regularly.

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

We have maintained and adapted our FOI service throughout our closure to the public in March and have been in contact with the Information Commissioner’s Office and with Clearing House.

The main limitation on our service and ability to address requests relates to restricted access to the physical collection during this time. Processing of FOI requests will be slower than normal, as we will, while social distancing measures are in place, only have a limited number of our team working on-site.

For Freedom of Information requests relating to historical records we have and are continuing to consult with government departments and other public record bodies in the usual way and liaise with our main contacts to understand any limitations (i.e. reduced on-site presence and access to paper copies).

Despite the challenges, 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 need 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 our training through the GKIM bite-size sessions and our 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.