Organising your clients paper record base legally

Organising your clients paper record base legally

This blog posts demonstrates the processes involved when storing paper copies of confidential client information efficiently.

It is no surprise, when everyone is so exceptionally busy, how filing cabinet contents can get to the stage where you break a fingernail trying to fit an important piece of paper into a client’s folder! Before you know it there are then piles upon piles of paper taking over every available surface.


Here is my organisational system to help you avoid this.


  1. What is a client’s records base?
  2. What are the current GDPR and Financial Regulations?
  3. What does it mean for you, holding client based records?
  4. Why you don’t recycle old records and do need secure shredding
  5. Procedure on how to organise your clients record
  6. Frequently Asked Questions
  7. How Busy Lives! can support with this


What is a client records base?

A client records base is made up of all your customers and is vital for any business. Increasing your client record base goes hand in hand with increasing the size / profits of your business.



What are the current GDPR and Financial Regulations for retaining information?

The 2018 General Data Protection Regulation has seven principles for retaining data which all business must follow, these are:

  • Lawfulness, fairness, and transparency
  • Purpose limitation
  • Data minimisation
  • Accuracy
  • Storage limitation
  • Integrity and confidentiality (security)
  • Accountability


Top Tip

If you need to know more or are unsure about your business and data protection there is good guidance on the website. Click here to take you to the page on this.


What does this mean for you holding client base records?

In short it means:

  • Any personal and sensitive information you hold on another individual must be stored securely and within locked furniture such as a filing cabinet or cupboard.
  • You cannot keep personal data for longer than you need it – if you are planning on keeping personal data ensure you have a good reason for keeping it.
  • If you share data with another company under lawful grounds you must ensure both companies understand what it to be done with the data once it is no longer needed – return to original company or both companies destroy it.
  • You must use appropriate security to stop the data you hold from being accidently / deliberately compromised. Along with this you must have a procedure to follow on any data breach and report it immediately to the ICO and any individuals affected by it if there is one.


Additionally, HMRC also details what financial / accounting records you must keep, these are:

  • All goods bought and sold and who bought / sold them (unless you run a retail business).
  • Money spent by the company.
  • Money received from sales.
  • Statements / any other financial documents which you use to complete your tax return.
  • Moneys received – grants / payments from support schemes.
  • Company assets.
  • Company stock / Stock takings.


All the above financial / accounting records must be kept for 6 years. However, some records may need to be kept longer, for example, machinery that is expected to last more than six years or if you conducted a transaction that lasted more than one tax year.



Why you don’t just recycle old records and need secure shredding

Sadly, you hear on the news how people have had their identities stolen, some of which has been through extracting papers from dustbins.

Shredding documents is the most secure way to destroy data. The type of shredder you use will dictate how secure it is. For example, a strip shredder is the least secure type of shredding as documents can be put back to together whereas cross-cut shredders are amongst the most secure.

To find out how you should shred documents you will need to look at your industry sector guidelines and corporate policies.

If you have large quantities of client records for shredding, you can outsource your data destruction. Always ensure, if you decide to do this, to get a certificate of destruction to prove you disposed of your data and paperwork securely.


Procedure on how to organise your clients record base.

When you decide to tackle the monster that is your filing cabinet of records there are steps you can take to make the task easier while ensuring you adhere to GDPR and Financial regulations.

Once you have made the commitment to start sorting your records you need some items to help make the task easier to not get in a mess or destroy the wrong papers! These include:

  • A large working space
  • Filing cabinets and dividers
  • Square cut folders
  • Archive boxes
  • Lined paper
  • A printout of all your clients sorted by your method of referencing – i.e. by surname / client reference number
  • Secure shredding collection bags


Step 1:

  • Break the task down into small steps – this could be working on one section / drawer at a time.


Step 2:

  • Now you are prepared to start, empty your first section / drawer onto a clear surface.
  • From there start at the top of the pile and work your way down.
  • For each record check off the client against your list – if the record is for a client who is no longer a client decide if the record needs to kept or not (make sure you adhere to GDPR). Extract this record and either archive or if you no longer need the client record put it in the secure shredding collection bag.
  • For clients who are still part of your data record base go through the record and remove anything older than six years and put it in the shredding collection bag – unless you have good cause to keep the information.

Step 3:

  • Now, with client records you are keeping go through them and remove anything older than three years. Put this information into a folder marked ‘Archive’ and write the client name and number in the top right corner of the file.
  • File into an archive box.
  • Make a note of the client name / number on a separate sheet of paper to use later


Top tip to save time in the future:

At the end of every financial year go through your records and staple or treasury tag together all the papers from the year. Label the top sheet with the year to make for easy location.


Step 4:

  • Once you have gone through an entire section / drawer put the files you are keeping away ensuring they are all labelled appropriately.
  • Between 1 – 3 years is recommended depending upon the information being retained.
  • If you retain different types of information on a client consider using a different colour square cut folder for each i.e. personal information = red / financial information = yellow / work related records = green.

Step 5:

  • Take the list of archived clients you made earlier, now stored in an archive box and type it up.
  • Give each archive box a clear heading and table the contents with the client reference number in the first column and full name or company in the second column.
  • Print three copies and laminate.
  • Attach one of the print outs to the front and one to the right had side of that. This will ensure the labels are visible if stacked by breadth or width.
  • Place the third copy inside the lid. This serves two purposes – if the labels come off there is still a record within the box, and it is also a quick reference for finding a specific client.


Top Tip:

You will most likely end up with two types of boxes for archiving – previous clients and current clients. To help with archiving you may find it easier to label previous client boxes with a letter and current client boxes with a number.


Step 6:    

  • Transfer your boxes to a secure location.
  • If storing securely on your own site I recommend using a shelving system (my personal recommendation is company called BIGDug). As when you stack boxes on top of each other you may find yourself struggling to access any of the files in the middle boxes.



Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to organise a paperwork in a filing cabinet office?

This depends on your filing cabinet and the office! It usually ranges from half a day to a day to go through a full filing cabinet depending on the amount that needs both sorting, archiving and organising.

I’m worried about you throwing away papers that may be important and need to be kept. How do I know this will not happen?

After fact finding about you and your business, any papers which I do not feel you need to hang onto I put into a ‘check’ box as I go along. This gives you the final say and opportunity to check before it is recycled.

Do I need to be there if I outsourced you to organise my office for me?

I need to have an initial meeting with you as part of my fact find about your business, yourself and how ideally you would like your office to look. After that, I am fine on my own.

How do I know I can trust you with my paperwork and data protection?

This is all set out in my Freelance contract and Terms & Conditions document which you receive in advance of any work taking place. I am also registered with the ICO and fully insured.

How do I book your services?

Either give me a call or complete the contact me details on my website and I will be in touch. Once we have discussed your needs I will book you in the first available slot I have.



How Busy Lives! can support with this

Busy Lives! was created when I left a busy career that left me time poor and unable to give sufficient priority to what really mattered to me. I now provide a wide range of business support for people in that position.


If the procedure above sounds too much like hard work and effort or boring to you why not let me do it for you?

Equally, if you know anyone taking over a business where this may be what they are inheriting, please tell them about me. I can provide outsourced project support where systematic and methodical organisation is required.


Let you help you gain precious time back. Ring Busy Lives! 07565 722 031

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