Getting Control of the Paperwork

One of the strange things about paperwork is that the people who avoid it most often end up doing more than they have to. Without taking a little time to organise a planned system, they end up wasting time looking for files and, sometimes, doing things twice because they can’t find the original paperwork.

The best way to organise files is to keep them in different places, depending on who should see it, who should not see it, and who should be able to get it quickly.

Questions to Consider

    • Why are you keeping this? If you know why you are keeping it, the next questions are much easier. Sometimes there is no reason to keep something so it is easiest to throw it away.
    • When will we get rid of it? If you have lots of files, it will make it easier to get rid of older files if each folder is marked with the date it was last used or the date it is to be destroyed. A general rule is that official records should be kept for seven years after the last thing is written in them. Records of clients are often kept longer, in some medical settings, for example, they have to be kept for 15 years after the last entry and for children in care, most services keep them for much longer, often 99 years. The department who funds you will be able to tell you how long you should keep records and reports.
    • Who will want to find this file? If you can’t think of anyone who’d want it, you might want to throw it away. If you know all the people who need to see it, keep it in a place it can easily be found. For example, the policy and procedure manual should be easy to find for everyone – it’s not much use if it’s locked away somewhere.
    • Who should not have access to this file? It is essential that all private or personal information and documents are kept locked up in a place that can’t be easily opened by the wrong people. Filing cabinets that are locked, rooms that are locked, password protected computers and drawers that are locked are examples of secure spaces.

Record Keeping

There are a variety of different documents that should be viewed and in the possession of certain people within an organisation. 

Files for Management and Board 

These will be best kept locked at the board members’ homes or locked in the manager’s office or a filing cabinet only the manager can open. These include:

    • Strategic plans.
    • Funding submissions
    • Financial reports to the funding body.
    • Insurance documents.
    • Minutes of board meetings.
    • Staff files for the top manager they employ.

Files for Human Resource Workers and Management

The Human Resources Manager is the person who handles staff issues in smaller organisations, the Human Resources Manager could also be the General Manager. These are best kept locked in a drawer or cabinet that only the Human Resources manager can see. These include:

    • Details of any staff medical issues.
    • Payslips and pay rates.
    • Disciplinary procedures.
    • Phone numbers and addresses of staff and volunteers.

Files for Face-to-Face Workers

This includes anything with private information about the clients and might include:

    • Case notes.
    • Log books.
    • Daily message books.
    • Weekly plans.
    • DoCS notifications of abuse.
    • Names and addresses of service users.

It is important that private or personal information about clients can’t be read by anyone who doesn’t need to see it. For example, this includes the Human Resources Manager and, usually, the parents of the client (if they are a young person). See the section on Confidentiality for more details about this.

These files are best kept in a locked filing cabinet in the spaces of the services, such as an office, that only staff uses. If other clients sometimes visit this space, it is important that all files, names, addresses etc are not ever left out where they could be read. If you have a lot of files, and are keeping them for a long time, you might need to have a room especially for files to be stored.

Files for Users of the Service

These are best kept where they can easily be seen by service users, including on a display rack, on notice boards or on coffee tables in client areas. These include:

    • Information brochures about services.
    • Information about upcoming events.

Files That Aren’t Needed Anymore

This includes old files, magazines, junk mail etc. Remember that just because you don’t need it any more doesn’t mean someone couldn’t read it, so make sure that anything that might contain personal information is shredded or burnt. It is not enough just to throw it in a bin and hope no-one ever reads it.

Computer Files

On a computer, the same rules apply. Information is mostly kept in ‘folders’ on the computer. Lots of services have a separate computer for the payroll and bosses, which the rest of the staff can’t use or they set them up so that some are protected by passwords. If children are allowed to use computers, staff need to make sure confidential files can’t be opened.

Often, there are electronic files on the computer which are copies of paper files kept somewhere else. If you can, it will make your life easier if you use a similar system on the computer as you use on paper. If you keep all your client files alphabetically in the filing cabinet but by date of birth on the computer, it makes it harder to find things on both.