Access to public records

Introduction – Access to public records at The National Archives and other places of deposit

The aim of the guidance linked below is to supplement regarding the transfer of public records to The National Archives and other places of deposit. It should be used as a reference tool by those involved in the sensitivity review of records and the transfer of closed records. The guidance is intended primarily for the transfer of public records held by government departments to The National Archives or other places of deposit but the principles and examples may also be relevant to the transfer of non-public records.

Records are transferred to The National Archives and other places of deposit under the Public Records Act 1958 (PRA).

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) governs public access to public records, and these are transferred ‘open on transfer’ unless alternatives are in place. When the information in those records is environmental information, as defined in the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, public access is governed by those regulations, which are similar but not identical to the FOIA. For simplicity, FOIA is used throughout, with Environmental Information Regulations specified only when provisions differ.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issues guidance on FOIA exemptions (the reasons to withhold information). The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) issues guidance on the Environmental Information Regulations. Part 2 of the code of practice on the management of records under section 46 of the FOIA sets out how records should be transferred to archives services.

For more information please contact the Access Team: or for advice and guidance on digital records closures please consult the Digital Transfer Team:


What are public records, and who is responsible for them (PDF, 177 Kb)

Principles for determining the access status of records on transfer (PDF, 101 Kb)

Freedom of Information exemptions (PDF, 158 Kb)

Data Protection and personal information (PDF, 114 Kb)

Procedures for closure on transfer (PDF, 121 Kb)

Retention (PDF, 185 Kb)

Redaction considerations (PDF, 98 Kb)


Closure at transfer application (Word) (DOC, 80 Kb)

Closure at transfer application (Excel) (XLS, 40 Kb)

Application to retain under s3(4) of the Public Record Act 1958 (Word) (DOC, 90 Kb)

Application to retain under s3(4) of the Public Record Act 1958 (Excel) (XLS, 40 Kb)