Security risk: Two thirds of SMEs hoard old paperwork and documents

Survey shows two thirds of UK businesses hoard paperwork and risk losing important documents, with sheds, basements and lock-ups are common document dumping grounds.

Sixty-six per cent of UK businesses could be putting themselves at risk of document loss due to the mismanagement of vital business paperwork, with many lacking any document management strategy and leaving themselves open to serious threats including GDPR fines, research has shown.

In the survey commissioned by Cleardata, 44 per cent of businesses admit to using storage lock ups or self-storage facilities and 22 per cent store documents in basements and lofts which could be prone to flooding and damp. Seventeen per cent even put paperwork in sheds and 16 per cent in garages. For 72 per cent the main storage option is an array of filing cabinets, cupboards and drawers –taking up expensive floor space.

David Bryce, managing director of Cleardata, says, ‘Our research found that many businesses are archiving critical business documents in weird and wonderful locations including sheds, basements and lock up garages, for an average of just over ten years. This can leave vital and sensitive information open to theft and damage and also make it difficult to find quickly if needed for legal or data compliance purposes.’

On average it takes businesses between five and six days to retrieve paper documents, although for 44 per cent it takes over a week and for some it takes over a month. This indicates a lack of document management strategy making it difficult to retrieve paperwork quickly when needed, which could stop businesses meeting GDPR compliance standards or responding to legal requests for information.

There is also massive inconsistency in how long businesses hold onto paperwork ranging from just six months to over 100 years. This suggests that while some businesses are archiving documents for too long, leading to unnecessary cost and complexity, others are ditching documents that they should be keeping for reference and legal reasons. Also, smaller businesses hang onto their documents for longer, an average of 12.25 years compared to 8.08 years for larger businesses.

Only 33 per cent of the businesses surveyed actually use a purpose built secure archiving facility.

The paperwork kept for the longest at 15.17 years on average is trademark and IP documentation, followed by employment records and contracts for 13.25 years. In contrast the paperwork held for the shortest average time of 7.16 years is recruitment records such as job application forms, then procurement paperwork, for example supplier contracts, for 8.4 years.

Cleardata’s David Bryce, comments, ‘Although we live in an increasingly digital world, historical and new paper based documents still need to be kept safely and managed effectively. But a staggering amount of UK businesses simply don’t seem to know what to do with them and underestimate the risks that this can create.

‘Implementing an efficient document management process is vital, especially if businesses want to comply with new GDPR regulations, as well as ensuring important business resources aren’t being spent sifting through oceans of paperwork.

‘It’s clear that the majority of businesses don’t understand what paperwork they’re storing, without the ability to know what information is being archived businesses are at risk of a number of serious threats. Businesses can benefit from engaging a third party document management specialist who is able to ensure important documents are stored correctly and businesses aren’t putting themselves at risk.

‘This can include indexing the documents, businesses often don’t have the in house resource or experience to do this themselves; scanning business critical records – freeing up space and negating the need to pay for ongoing storage or even archiving records offsite, providing managed destruction dates and fast document retrieval.’

Further reading on hoarding paperwork

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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