Keeping Paperwork

A question that regularly crops up is how long paperwork should be kept for.

Keeping paperwork is incredibly important, if HMRC wants to enquire into your tax return you need to have the evidence to support your income and expense figures.  The types of documents that should be retained include;

  • Invoices you’ve created
  • Bank/credit card statements
  • Expenses for items you’ve bought for the business
  • P60s and wage slips
  • Any tax code notices that you’ve been sent
  • Evidence of any large transactions like house purchase/sale, inheritances, etc


For self employed people and companies, the ‘expenses’ pile can run into substantial amounts of paperwork, and keeping it forever could potentially fill your entire loft!

In the event that HMRC does want to see your source records, they can issue fines of up to £3,000 if you cannot provide them, so just binning them to free up space is not advisable.

HMRC are now happy to accept that digital ‘paperwork’ is as good as actual paper, so one great option is to use a scanning service (cheaper than you think, ask us for a recommendation) to get everything scanned into a digital record and stored on a USB stick and then you can safely get rid of the actual paper and free up some storage space.  Just make sure you have 2 copies of the digital record that are stored in different places.  Possibly one on a physical USB stick and one in a cloud location.

If you are using a cloud based bookkeeping system and attaching copies of documents to the transactions (as you should be) then this is the ideal way to store them.  Should you decide not to use the software anymore most of them allow a bulk download of all the documents into a zip file.  This wouldn’t cover the requirement to keep bank statements, but most banks allow you to request back 7 years so it would be unusual not to be able to access them.

It is worth noting that, in some circumstances HMRC can go back 20 years in an investigation into your records, however this only happens in serious cases of fraud/tax evasion, and if you have an investigation of that level you already have way more problems than missing paperwork.

For employed & self employed people, the requirement is to keep records for 5 years after the 31 January submission deadline of the relevant tax year – here’s a table to make that clearer!

Tax Year

Tax Return Deadline

Keep Records Until


31 Jan 2023

31 Jan 2028


31 Jan 2022

31 Jan 2027


31 Jan 2021

31 Jan 2026


31 Jan 2020

31 Jan 2025


31 Jan 2019

31 Jan 2024


31 Jan 2018

31 Jan 2023


31 Jan 2017

31 Jan 2022

So as you can see, currently you are only required to keep paperwork that relates to the 2016/17 tax year and onwards

For limited companies the timescale is slightly different, in that it’s 6 years from the end of the company year that they relate to, so for example if your company accounts run from 1 Apr 2021 to 31 Mar 2022 then you would need to keep that paperwork until 31 Mar 2028 at the earliest, and currently you could dispose of anything earlier than 2015.

We are always happy to advise on how to keep your records, and implement a digital record keeping or bookkeeping system.