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Documents, records and requests for access

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All community organisations will need to keep documents and records.  Requirements to keep certain documents and records may be set out in your organisation's rules, policies or resolutions, funding agreements and other contracts, or in legislation.

Sometimes, requirements depend on your legal structure or state of incorporation.

There are many sources of record keeping obligations, and this page outlines only some of these. For example, there can be particular laws around health records or records relating to disputes. 

Document retention policies

The following websites have resources on developing a document retention policy:

Responding to requests for information

From time to time, your organisation may receive requests for information. Common requests include:

  • clients or service users seeking to access information held about them
  • documents sought as part of a court proceeding - sometimes called 'discovery'
  • documents sought through a subpoena
  • information sought using Freedom of Information provisions (where services are linked to Government), and
  • members seeking access to the documents of your organisation, such as meeting minutes or financial records.

Often requests for information raise a lot of issues for organisations. It can be hard to know what, if any, information the organisation is required by law to disclose, and what information the organisation can choose under law to disclose, and what information the organisation must not disclose. Information, documents and records often hold a mix of types of information within them, and the result can be that parts of a document need to be provided. We strongly recommend that when requests for information are made by clients, members or in relation to court proceeding, that your organisation seek legal advice as early as possible about what information that must or can provide.

Record keeping for charities

Charities registered with the ACNC have particular record keeping requirements. For incorporated associations, these are in addition to record keeping requirements under state laws for incorporated associations, outlined below. The fact sheet below outlines information on record keeping for charities relating to:

  • the record keeping required of charities registered by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) under the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 (ACNC Act), and
  • the provisions of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Corporations Act) that charities have to comply with before they are registered with the ACNC and if the ACNC Act is repealed.

 

Don’t know your legal structure?

There are a few steps you can take to find out your organisation’s legal structure. Firstly, if your organisation is a charity, the best place to look is on the ACNC register. Once you have found your organisation’s entry, you can check your rules or constitution which should state the type of legal structure. You can search by name and by ABN or ACN.

If your organisation is not a charity, you should start with the Australian Business Register search. You will need the name and ideally the ABN or ACN of your organisation. If your group is a Company Limited by Guarantee (a federal not-for-profit structure) this will be indicated in the entry as Australian Public Company. If your group is a state-based not-for-profit structure such as an incorporated association or a co-operative, it is likely that the ABR will list it as “Other Incorporated Entity”. You will then need to search your state/territory regulator of not-for-profits to confirm your structure.

The fact sheet below sets out record-keeping requirements for incorporated associations. It includes information regarding:

  • the legal requirements for keeping registers, records and official documents
  • the types of registers an incorporated association must and may keep and who may inspect registers, records and documents, and
  • the power of Consumer Affairs Victoria to inspect and seize documents and records.

Extra sources of record-keeping obligations

  • Employee records: Under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), an employer must make, and keep for 7 years, employee records in relation to each of its employees, containing the information specified in the Fair Work Regulations 2009 (Cth)

  • Fundraising: The Fundraising Act 1998 (Vic) requires records and accounts relating to a fundraising appeal to be stored in Victoria at the association’s registered office or principal place of business, for 3 years after the date the appeal ends. The records that need to be kept include details of all income/proceeds and expenditure, and the names and addresses of the beneficiaries and the people who managed the appeal.

  • Criminal litigation: The Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) requires an organization to retain documents if an office bearer or staff member is aware of any actual or threatened litigation being bought against the organisation or any of its clients: see very broad provision in section 254 of the Crimes Act (destruction of evidence).  Note that to be liable under section 254(1) a person must know that document is, or is reasonably likely to be, required in evidence in a legal proceeding.

  • Other litigation: Typically an action can be brought against a person or entity within 6 years of the cause of action, for example a breach of contract or an act of negligence. Any legal documents that may be relevant if legal action was to be taken (but is not actual or threatened), for example contracts, should be kept for 6 years.

  • Electronic records: Required information can be recorded in electronic form if the conditions in the Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (Vic) are satisfied.  For example, information must be useable, accessible, complete and unaltered, able to be reproduced in hard copy.

The fact sheet below sets out record keeping requirements for incorporated associations. It includes information regarding:

  • the legal requirements for keeping registers, records and official documents
  • the types of registers an incorporated association must and may keep and who may inspect registers, records and document, and
  • the power of NSW Fair Trading to inspect and seize documents and records.

Extra sources of record-keeping obligations

There are also record-keeping requirements for various tax concessions, fundraising licenses or permits, in relation to bingo and trade promotions, in relation to employees, and in relation to members. Go to these topics to find out more.

The fact sheet below sets out record-keeping requirements for incorporated associations. It includes information regarding: 

  • the legal requirements for keeping registers, records and official documents
  • the types of registers an incorporated association must and may keep and who may inspect registers, records and documents, and
  • the power of the Office of Fair Trading to inspect and seize documents and records.

The fact sheet below sets out record-keeping requirements for incorporated associations. It includes information regarding:

  • the legal requirements for keeping registers, records and official documents
  • the types of registers an incorporated association should keep and who may inspect registers, records and documents, and
  • the power of the Corporate Affairs Commission to inspect and seize documents and records.

The fact sheet below sets out record-keeping requirements for incorporated associations. It includes information regarding:

  • the legal requirements for keeping registers, records and official documents
  • the types of registers an incorporated association should keep and who may inspect registers, records and documents, and
  • the power of the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs to inspect and seize documents and records.

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