Record keeping

Good record keeping allows an association to document and retrieve information that can be used for the purposes of reporting, assessing, planning, monitoring and reviewing.  In addition, some records are required by legislation.  This chapter describes the kinds of records that should be kept, record keeping systems, storage and members’ access to these records.

Key Points

  • There is a wide variety of records an association needs to keep.
  • Members have a legal right to access the members’ register, record of office holders and the rules of association.  
  • Record keeping systems will vary from one association to another depending on the type of association, its activities and size. 
  • Records that are not active should be archived and kept for seven years.
  • Records can be stored off site by companies that specialise in document storage, management and retrieval

Types of records to be kept

Types of records to be kept

There are a number of records that an association should keep as a matter of good policy and sound administration.

Some records are required to be kept by law such as members' registers and employment and tax records.

Records required by the Act

The Act requires an association to keep the following records:

  • an up-to-date register of all members, including their nominated contact information;
  • an up-to-date version of the rules;
  • an up-to-date list of the names and addresses of people who are office holders under the rules of the association, including committee members, any trustees and those authorised to use the common seal;
  • accounting records that correctly record and explain the financial transactions and position of the association in such a manner that allows true and fair accounts to be prepared; and
  • every disclosure of interest made by a committee member to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting at which the disclosure was made.

The Commissioner for Consumer Protection can request an association to produce any or all of the records listed above. Under the Act members have the right to inspect and copy each of the first three records listed above (see also Members' access to the records below).

Minutes

Minutes of all meetings especially of the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and management committee should be recorded, approved and filed for easy retrieval (see also Meetings). Approved minutes provide an official record of:

  • attendance;
  • business discussed;
  • correspondence received;
  • reports tabled;
  • decisions made; and
  • resolutions adopted.

Recorded decisions should clearly state:

  • what decision has been made;
  • who will be responsible for its implementation;
  • when the decision is to be implemented by;
  • if the decision is to be reviewed, and if so, when and by whom; and
  • who should be notified of the decision and how.

In addition to minutes, it is also common practice for associations to maintain a register of all significant resolutions passed by the association.

Notices

The Act requires adequate notice of association meetings and special resolutions be given to all members and that notice periods be specified in the rules of association.

Meeting notices must be given in accordance with the association's rules and should include the time, date, place and purpose. Copies of notices showing the date of issue should be kept in case of later dispute. Notices are often filed with the related minutes.

Certificate of Incorporation

This certificate is issued when the association is first incorporated or if an association changes its name.

It is important the certificate is stored safely as it is evidence of the association's corporate status. The certificate can be required for example, when applying for funding grants or opening a bank account.

If the certificate cannot be located an association can apply through AssociationsOnline to have a duplicate certificate issued for a small fee.

Financial records

The Act requires records to be kept of the association's finances. Taxation and industrial legislation also require financial records to be kept.

Effective management committees need clear and accurate up-to-date financial information to keep well-informed and to ensure that the association and its services remain viable.

The requirements of the Act are quite specific:

  • associations must keep sufficient accounting (or financial) records so that the financial transactions and financial position of the association are correctly recorded;
  • these records need to be kept in a way that will allow true and fair accounts (or financial statements) to be prepared from time to time, and so that these accounts can be conveniently audited if required; and
  • the financial records are required to be kept for at least seven years.

Depending on the association's annual revenue there may be additional accounting requirements to be met. These requirements are discussed in detail in Accounts and Auditing.

Annual report

Many medium to large associations compile an annual report which is tabled at the AGM. An annual report summarises the main achievements and highlights of the past 12 months.

There is no set format for an annual report, but it can include the following items:

  • Chairperson's report.
  • Staff report.
  • Activity report.
  • Annual statistics.
  • Annual financial report.
  • Interest stories, highlights and low points.
  • List of staff, management and volunteers.

Where an annual report is produced, it is usual to include the annual financial report. As an annual financial report is required under the Act, it is a convenient way of ensuring that the association meets its obligation to submit its annual accounts to its members at the AGM.

Many associations distribute an annual report as a public relations exercise. Some funding agreements require annual reports.

Employment records

In addition to the records required by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and State and Commonwealth industrial laws (see Employment), associations may wish to set up employment‑related record systems. These could include:

  • records of all job descriptions, selection criteria, related industrial agreements, past advertisements and job position evaluations;
  • records of selection processes and outcomes;
  • formal records of any meeting or discussion related to issues of employee performance and position review;
  • formal documentation of all proceedings related to any employer/employee, employee/employee, or employee/third party grievance;
  • records on staff training and professional development; and
  • copies of all correspondence and memoranda relating to individual conditions of employment, changes or requests.

Safety records

Occupational health and safety assessments and data should be kept to record the association's management of its legal responsibilities to provide a safe workplace (see also Occupational Safety and Health and Workers' Compensation).

The following health and safety records should be kept in a separate file for easy access and reference:

  • complaints;
  • incidents;
  • risk management analysis;
  • training details;
  • safety committee minutes; and
  • copies of specific management committee resolutions.

Insurance records

Copies of all insurance policies should be kept in a secure place. Changes to policies should be updated on the files immediately they are received.

Insurance policies may require an association to keep specific records in addition to those already kept, for the purposes of validating a policy. Such records may include health declarations, assets register, numbers of volunteers and number of hours undertaking certain activities.

Associations must notify their insurer as soon as possible after the occurrence of certain events such as an accident, theft or fire. It is important associations keep copies of all notifications and correspondence to prevent the possibility of any dispute regarding an association's obligations.

Service delivery records

Some associations need to keep records of its service delivery and activities in order to:

  • acknowledge achievements;
  • minimise risk of professional negligence;
  • facilitate communications and change overs;
  • ensure industry or professionally‑based requirements are met; and
  • assist in evaluation and planning.

This may take the form of statistic sheets, case files or employee reports.

Funding arrangements may also require certain records to be kept and reported on. Failure to properly keep records or report as required (quarterly, annually etc.) may result in a breach of the funding agreement and subsequent loss of funding.

Members' access to the records

Except for those records association members have a specific right to access under the Act, members’ access to records is dealt with under an association’s rules. Access should be based on what the majority of members have approved. Other specific arrangements may need to be made for confidential materials such as staff or client files.

Incorporated associations should not be run as if its committee is a ‘secret society’. Mistrust and tension could be caused if the availability of information such as committee minutes or financial accounts to ordinary members is restricted without good reason.

Members’ register

The Act requires associations to maintain an up-to-date register of members, which must include each member’s name and one of the following:

  • residential address;
  • postal address; or
  • email address.

Where any change in the association’s membership occurs the records must be updated within 28 days of the change.

The Act gives members the right to inspect the register and make a copy of any part of its contents. A member does not have a right to remove the register from the association’s possession.

A refusal by some committees to allow access to the members register has in the past led to the prosecution and fining of a number of committee members.

Some people have held a belief the Commonwealth’s privacy legislation overrides this requirement of the Act, however the courts have not supported this view. It is clear committees do not have the power to deny members a fundamental right to access the member’s register.

It is easy to comply with the requirements of the Act, while at the same time minimising the concerns that people may have over their name and address being made available to other members, such as:

  • ensuring the register contains only each member’s name and their nominated contact information. If the association wants or needs to keep other information on its members (telephone numbers, spouse’s details, etc.), then develop a separate record that contains these details. This should be kept secure and confidential as it could be subject to privacy considerations (see Privacy and confidentiality of records). The simple register of names and nominated contact information is the only register that is required to be accessed under the Act.
  • making members aware that it is a legal requirement that their name and nominated contact information can be made available to other members. It is a good idea to advise people of this requirement when they apply to become a member such as on the application form. For current members, it can be useful to defuse some of the emotion by pointing out that their names and addresses are also obtainable through sources such as the electoral roll and the telephone directory. Alternatively members can give an email address or post office box address for the purposes of the register, although the cost of maintaining a post office box may not be justified for most.
  • not allowing members to record their contact address as c/- the association.
  • safe guarding the privacy of under-age members by creating a ‘non-member’ category for them such as ‘players’ for juniors in a sporting club. By making them ‘something other than members’ means their addresses are not available to other members through the association. Juniors as non-members are not able to join a committee and there is also doubt over whether it is legally appropriate for under-age persons to serve in that capacity. Creating a ‘non-member’ category would involve an amendment to the association‘s rules. This topic is dealt with in Altering the Rules.
  • the Act enabling associations to include a requirement in the rules that any member wishing to make a copy of or take an extract from the register of members – must provide a statutory declaration stating the purpose for which the information is required and the purpose is related to the affairs of the association. The provision of a statutory declaration demonstrates the good intentions of the requesting member. A sample statutory declaration is included at the end of this chapter.
  • the new law introducing an option for members to request their association provide them with a copy of the members register. Again the rules may require members to provide a statutory declaration. The management committee may also require members to pay a fee for the copy.
  • A person must not use or disclose any information in the register of members unless the purpose is directly to the affairs of the association.

For example the information cannot be used to send material for political, religious, charitable or commercial purposes.

Important!

If the association keeps a members register that includes information other than the names and nominated contact details, it might find itself in breach of privacy laws if the register is made available for inspection by members. (See also Privacy and confidentiality of records).

The best way to comply with both the Western Australian and Commonwealth legal obligations is to maintain the register or registers as described above.

Record of office holders

Associations are required to maintain an up-to-date record of the names and current addresses of:

  • all office bearers;
  • all committee members;
  • those members who are authorised to use the common seal; and
  • any persons who are appointed or act as trustees for the association.

The address recorded in the record office holders may be:

  • a residential, business or post office box address; or
  • an email address.

As is the case with the members’ register, members are entitled to view the record of office holders upon request and make a copy of all or part of the record. They may not remove the record for this purpose. Furthermore the inspecting member must not disclose or use the information unless the purpose is directly connected to the affairs of the association.

The record of office holders does not generate the same level of concern as the register of members. Many associations make this information freely available and without the need for a request by a member. Where members can easily contact their committee, the organisation runs smoother.

Rules of association

Every association must have a set of rules, often known as a ‘constitution’. The rules largely govern the way in which an association operates. The Act requires an association’s rules to be kept up-to-date. To ensure this, the rules can be amended by a special resolution of the members. This process is explained further in Altering the Rules.

The Act also requires a copy of the rules to be held by Consumer Protection as the 'official' version of the association’s rules. The rules lodged by an association with Consumer Protection (including any amendments) are the only effective rules of the association.

It is important to notify Consumer Protection of any amendment to the rules within one month of the date of the meeting where the special resolution was passed. If there is a dispute to which an amendment of the rules is relevant and Consumer Protection has not been notified, then it may not be possible to rely on the amendment to resolve the dispute.

The association must give each member a copy of the rules in force when their membership starts. Should a person wish to access the rules at any time during their membership they may:

  • request to inspect the rules and make a copy or take an extract; or
  • request that the association give them a copy of the rules or any particular part in force at the time of the request.

Privacy and confidentiality of records

The Commonwealth’s Privacy Act 1988 requires private sector and not for profit organisations to protect and safeguard their collection and use of personal information.  The Privacy Act includes thirteen Australian Privacy Principles setting out the standards, rights and obligations for the handling, holding, use, accessing and correction of personal information.  The Privacy Act is overseen by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Associations need to obtain and keep information on clients, members and employees etc. to provide good service and comply with legal requirements such as the member’s register and tax details.  Personal information must be kept private and confidential.  This information may not be used for any unlawful purpose or without the person's consent.

In the case of the register of members, the privacy legislation does not protect this information from other members.  Members do not need to give consent for another member to view the register.  The Australian Privacy Principles states that an organisation must not disclose personal information about a person unless the disclosure is required or authorised under law. 

The Associations Incorporation Act 2015 is the law in Western Australia that enables a member to access the members’ register as discussed above.  It is important the members’ register contains only their names and addresses and no other information!

Under the Commonwealth’s privacy laws where an association collects information on clients, employees, members and others, they have a right to:

  • have their privacy rights respected;
  • be assured their information will not be passed onto a third person without their consent;
  • know what information will be kept and why (this is why you need to tell members about the members’ register!);
  • know how information will be used;
  • know how they can access this information;
  • know how to correct an incorrect or misleading record; and
  • be assured that information will only be used for the purpose it was supplied.

Visit the website for the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) or telephone 1300 363 992 for more information. 

Custody and handover of records

The Act requires an association’s rules to include details of who will have custody and responsibility for keeping the records (described in this chapter).  These responsibilities are typically shared between the members of the management committee, for example the Treasurer may be responsible for custody of the financial records while the Secretary may keep everything else. 

If a person ceases to be a member of the management committee through the ending of their term, resignation or death, it is a requirement that any association records they hold be delievered to a current member of the association’s committee as soon as practicable. 

Record keeping and Consumer Protection

Annual information statements

The annual information statement is required to be lodged within 6 months after the end of the association’s financial year and includes:

  • confirmation of the association’s address
  • confirmation has at least 6 voting members
  • the date of the most recent Annual General Meeting; and
  • the revenue for the most recent financial year.

The annual information statement can be submitted using AssociationsOnline.

Updating the association’s address

There is no requirement to notify Consumer Protection of changes to office bearers.

It is important to ensure the association’s contact address remains up to date and correct.  The Commissioner must be notified of any changes to an address within 28 days.

The new address can be easily registered through AssociationsOnline and there is no fee for this service.

Record keeping systems

There are various manual (filing cabinets) and electronic (computer-aided) ways to record, store and retrieve information. Each association should work out and decide on a record-keeping system that suits its particular needs, circumstances and resources (availability of space or computers). The preferred system should be functional, accurate, reliable and user-friendly.

Record-keeping systems need to consider the:

  • nature of information to be stored and retrieved;
  • security and access of files and information (particularly computer records);
  • validity and reliability of the information collected and the system on which it is recorded;
  • resources and training required; and
  • length of time that the records should be kept (general legal requirement is seven years).

Electronic records

An electronic record is any information entered onto a computer system and used, stored and accessed via that system. Electronic records include document files, databases, spreadsheets, electronic mail and internet documents.

Electronic records need to be given special consideration.

For example without an appropriate security system an original document such as meeting minutes may be amended without authority and/or being readily detected.

Electronic records need to be kept securely and at the same time, be easily accessible for retrieval.

Tracking documents

Associations may consider developing a simple policy that prescribes how documents are to be identified. It is very easy for there to be suddenly two or more versions of a document and no one is sure which is the most accurate!.

For example:

The Harmony Community Development Association’s policies state that all official documents, minutes, reports, records, forms and orientation documents must:

  • be clearly titled;
  • show authorisation;
  • show date of authorisation;
  • show date of review;
  • title original copies as 'Original Copy'; and
  • title any non-original document as 'Copy'.

A register of all official copies will be kept for reference purposes.

Bring-up systems

A bring-up system is any systematic method used to regularly check open files and review policy or management decisions. The system can be manual or computer based.

Many associations use bring-up systems to help ensure that policies, decisions and other important matters are kept highlighted and reviewed regularly. This system is a useful quality assurance and risk management tool.

For example:

The management committee of an association gives a review date for all policies developed. The date of review is entered into a register maintained by the secretary for each meeting. A policy 'coming-up' on the register as scheduled for review is then put on the next meeting agenda.

A computer bring-up system is used as the quality assurance mechanism for service delivery by community staff. Actions taken on a file are recorded and a bring-up date allocated before being given to administration staff for recording and filing. Each morning a staff member opens the bring-up list for the day, retrieves the files and places them on the desk of the employee who is working on the file. This reminds the employee that they had requested the file to be 'brought to the top of the pile' for follow up. It may be that a court date is getting near, or the employee wrote a letter four weeks ago and wanted to check if a response had been received.

Storage management

The way in which records are stored will depend on:

  • the purpose of the records;
  • the type of records;
  • how long records must be kept; and
  • access needs.

Records may be stored on-site at the association’s place of business. If there is insufficient and appropriate space, records can be stored off-site by storage companies. It is essential documents are stored in safe, secure and appropriate facilities. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding on a storage facility. Storage facilities should:

  • be conveniently located to the user;
  • comply with occupational health and safety standards;
  • comply with building standards;
  • have secure and controlled access;
  • be appropriate for the kinds of documents to be stored;
  • facilitate easy access and retrieval;
  • have containers that are suitable, durable and appropriate for the kinds of documents; and
  • protect documents from disasters such as fire and deterioration from direct sunlight.

Destroying and archiving records

Some records may be destroyed after their legal retention period has expired (in most cases this period is seven years).

Records should not be destroyed unless the association is absolutely certain that this can be done both safely and legally. An association should have a policy on storing and destroying records. No record should be destroyed without the appropriate authorisation.

If the records of your association have not been destroyed, you may wish to consider passing them to the Battye LibraryThe Library maintains an extensive archive of the social history of Western Australia and its people and has expressed an interest in the records of defunct associations.

Records that must be kept permanently should be archived and not destroyed. Records that have permanent value are historical documents, minutes of meetings and legal documents. Archived records can be stored on-site or at an off-site storage facility.

Sample Form - Statutory Declaration

Sample Statutory declaration

Sample Statutory Declaration for a member to request a copy of the register of members of an association.

Download the sample Statutory Declaration