How long should I keep old business and tax records?

I’m often asked when is it safe to get rid of old tax and business documents.

Under tax legislation business records and documents relating to a tax return must be retained for at least 6 years. When a tax return is filed late, records must be kept for a further 6 years from the end of the year in which the return is filed.

This applies to individuals, companies and other taxpayers.

For companies, there is an additional obligation under the Companies Act 2014 to keep records for at least 6 years after the end of the financial year. So if they are lost, compromised or destroyed within 6 years, this may be a breach of both company and tax law.

My own general recommendation is to never discard vital evidential information such as Employment Detail Summaries (including pre-2019 P60s), tax assessments, receipts etc, unless you’re really stuck for space and cannot store them safely.

For example, you may in years or decades to come, need to produce some of these records, for example to substantiate a claim for Old Age Pension or another social welfare entitlement, or in the case of an unexpected Revenue enquiry or audit.

For example, in the mid-2000s, many thousands of mainly elderly people found themselves being investigated by Revenue on foot of they, their spouses or their parents having historic undeclared foreign bank accounts, bogus non-resident accounts, or overseas sources of income.

Those who had kept even very basic records such as copies of tax returns, P60s or business accounts, dating sometimes as far back as the 1970s, generally found it a lot easier to deal with such Revenue queries as they could count as evidence of legitimate earnings and tax compliance. These people typically got off lighter than those who hadn’t retained any records and therefore had nothing to prove their innocence.

With the recent advent of GDPR and wider corporate trends to delete very old, and sometimes not so old, data, there is no guarantee that Revenue, the Dept of Social Protection, or anyone else will have retained current information if it is suddenly needed in say 15, 20 or 30 years time.

If you can’t keep physical records, it may be an option instead to scan and save digital copies of the most important documents, although you should note that this is not foolproof strategy. Remember that storage media can become unreliable over time, and link rot, service shutdowns and lost passwords can undermine the durability of long-term online data storage.