How long should helplines keep data?

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The question of how long to keep records on your callers is complex, and can be influenced by a number of factors. A number of helplines have been in touch asking how long they should keep the records that they make when a caller contacts them; and in some cases where that information has to be shared with others in line with the helpline’s confidentiality policy.

A good place to start is to think about why you need to keep the data, and what could happen if it wasn’t there. So, for example, if your helpline has a relationship with frequent callers where you greet them by name and refer to previous information that they have given you, then having the information available is important.
Helplines, like all other organisations, can’t keep information unless there is a good reason to do so. This is set out as a principle within the Data Protection Act. Having an archive and retention schedule can be a good idea for keeping records in order. This sets out a list of all of the different types of information you have in your organisation from finance and HR records to caller data, and sets a period of time for how long each type of record should be stored for. It’s likely that you would need to hold information on unsuccessful volunteer applications for a much shorter period of time than you would need to keep the information that you have in your financial records.

Lastly, it’s important to make sure that any information, particularly on helpline callers is held securely, and also that any information you need to get rid of is destroyed in a permanent and safe way that stops the information from being seen by people who shouldn’t have access to it. Not doing this could mean that your helpline could have not fulfilled your legal responsibilities to keep information safe, could lead to fines and most importantly, could break the trust that callers have placed in your helpline to protect their confidentiality.

One helpline in particular is very keen to know how long other helplines keep data on information that they have referred to third party health or police organisations, and how long they generally keep data for on callers where the caller is likely to contact again in future in order to get a benchmark for good practice. We also offer a masterclass on this very topic.

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