Responsibility for keeping and maintaining business records

Affected by Covid-19? Immediate Rescue Or Closure Options Available

FAST Free Director Advice & Support, With 100+ offices Nationwide our Licensed Insolvency Practitioners can Help Today.

Updated: 15th January 2021

How long do I need to keep my business records?

Severe penalties can be imposed for businesses that fail to produce business and accounting records when requested by HMRC. These fines can potentially amount to several thousand pounds or more.

Lack of physical space in which to store records can be an issue for some businesses, but you can keep them digitally rather than in paper form if you wish – you just need to bear in mind that they must be clearly legible.

Exactly how long you need to retain your records depends on your business structure – essentially, whether you’re self-employed or run a limited company. If you’re an employer, regardless of your business structure, you also have certain liabilities when it comes to the retention of documents.

If you’re self-employed

If you’re a sole trader or in an unincorporated business partnership, you need to retain your business records for at least five years after 31st January of the relevant tax year. These records include all sales documentation, business expenses, personal income, money paid into and withdrawn from the business, as well as VAT and PAYE information if applicable.

Being the subject of an HMRC investigation means you’ll need to retain these records until HMRC advises you otherwise. In all cases, the required records generally include bank statements, sales receipts, purchase invoices, cheque book stubs, and VAT documentation.

If you’ve received a government grant, you should generally retain the documentation for a period of four years from the date of receiving the grant.

Limited companies

The rules for limited companies are a little different, and there’s more documentation to consider.  In addition to the records mentioned above, limited company directors need to retain other documents including but not limited to, details of business assets, liabilities, loans secured against the company’s assets, and shareholder transactions.

In general, company records must be retained for around six years from the end of the accounting period. But some documentation needs to be kept for 10 years, including:

  • The company’s statutory books (company registers need to be retained for the time the company is in business)
  • VAT MOSS (Mini One Stop Shop) records
  • The minutes of board meetings and resolutions

If you’re an employer

You must keep PAYE records for three years from the end of the tax year to which they relate. These include notices of tax codes, payments to employees and to HMRC, details of employee sickness and leave, any taxable expenses or taxable benefits.

What happens if business records aren’t retained?

If any business records have been lost or stolen, you should inform HMRC straight away. They may request that you try to recreate the documents, but financial penalties of up to £3,000 can be applied if you fail to produce the required records when requested.  

For more information on which business records to keep, and for how long, our experts at Real Business Rescue can help. We have vast experience of dealing with HMRC, and can advise on how to approach the situation should you be unable to produce records when requested. Our extensive office network comprises 100 offices across the UK with a partner-led service offering immediate director advice and support.

Jonathan Munnery


0800 644 6080
Director Support - Business suffering from Cash-Flow Problems?
If your company is financially distressed, we also offer the below services:
Business debt recovery

  • Recover Unpaid Invoices of £5k+
  • Expert Credit Control Services
  • Stop Late Payers & Bad Debts
Visit Site
Time to pay experts

  • Get Breathing Space with HMRC
  • Support with Business Tax Arrears
  • 35 Years HMRC Negotiation
Visit Site
UK Business Finance

  • Rejected for a CBILS Loan?
  • Get Emergency Business Funding
  • Supporting 1000+ UK Companies
Visit Site
Who we help
  • Company Directors
  • Finance Directors
  • Sole Traders
  • Accountants
  • Small Businesses
  • Large Businesses
  • Partnerships
Contact our team
Jonathan Munnery
Gillian Sayburn
Julie Palmer
or Find your Nearest Office

Here at Real Business Rescue we take your privacy seriously and will only use your personal information to contact you with regards to your enquiry. We will not use your information for marketing purposes. See PRIVACY POLICY

Business Rescue Advice for Directors
Free Guide for Limited Company Directors
Business Rescue Advice for Directors
  • How to manage company cash flow problems
  • Advice on dealing with HMRC
  • Understanding rescue and closure options
  • And much more...
Free Guide Download
Dealing with your Insolvent Clients
Business Rescue Guide for Accountants
Dealing with your Insolvent Clients
  • Helping you advise insolvent clients
  • Spotting signs of client distress
  • Exploring business rescue options
  • And much more...
Free Guide Download
Our numbers speak for themselves
Number of UK Offices
Directors Helped
Licensed Insolvency Practitioners