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Paperless practices - do you keep any paper records?

Paperless practices - do you keep any paper...

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Armed with a fantastic scansnap following previous advice on here, I am scanning everything and have online immediate backup.

That said, I am still a bit scared about actually shredding everything.  For example I have just done a first year for a ltd company and actually have nothing to put in a paper file as everything is scanned (into searchable pdfs).  This feels scary so I have a huge pile of shredding to do but am too scared to do it!

For those further along the line, do you keep any paper records at all?  I was thinking of the signed accounts but then wonder why?

Advice would be very welcome on what works for you.

Thank you.

Replies (24)

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By Manchester_man
20th Jan 2015 14:04

I know what you mean. I'm also interested to see people's views on this thread.

Me personally, the only physical papers I keep are the accounts working papers file. I know this is pointless as all my WPs are digital and saved online, but I have always liked to keep a neat, referenced file and wonder whether others still keep accounts files? I hardly ever look in / refer to the file, but it makes me feel complete knowing it's there.

Having said that, it's often been said that I'm not normal!

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By Cloudcounter
20th Jan 2015 14:09

No paper

We don't have any paper files at all.  There are bits of paper lying round the office, nearly all of it belonging to clients.  All lincoming post is scaneed and filed in the document management system.  It's not actually thrown out for a month as by then we can be completely sure that it's been backed up solidy enough, but that's belt and braces really.  I know of firms who feed paper straight from the scanner into the shredder!

Most accounts and returns are approved electronically through our portal.  If we get signed paper back we scan and file the signed copy.

We don't actually shred anything any more.  We would if it was just our stuff but we process a huge qiantitly of paper documents for a client who has two shops so we have it picked up and shreded by a specialist shredding company

We've been doing this now for about 15 years and haven't had any issues that we wouldn't have had with paper files - those go wrong as well!

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By morgani
20th Jan 2015 14:13

We don't keep anything on paper.  Working papers themselves are prepared in excel.  All supporting documents are scanned and saved to the folders as searchable PDF's.

Accounts are produced as PDF's and signed using Adobe Echosign,  In the small number of cases where paper accounts and tax returns are signed then they are scanned in as well.

All emails are saved to correspondence folders.  Same with letters out.  Letters in are also scanned in and saved.

We have some paper hanging around to be dealt with.  Such as letters from HMRC and clients that are to be sorted.  These are then scanned and shredded after.

We were operating from home before and had paper records.  We grew pretty quickly and it soon became evident that space was running out.  We were then due to move house so decided to go paperless before the move to make it far simpler.  A few evenings spent scanning and shredding and we were away.  Have never looked back.

We have a good reliable backup system (offsite) so data is never lost (risk greatly reduced at least).

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By Flash Gordon
20th Jan 2015 14:28


The only paper is the small handful of bits waiting to be scanned!

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By TaxTeddy
20th Jan 2015 14:34

You'll get used to it

Whe we first went paperless it did feel a little strange at first - but not for long. I think it's a comfort thing.

After scanning I now enjoy recycling all paper - I recycle it as thick black smoke back into the atmosphere (I burn it).


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By Luke
20th Jan 2015 14:48

Thanks all
It seems I just need to be fully confident in my backup system (carbonite which has been great so far) then be brave and shred away.

Part of my motivation is working from home and whilst the loft has archive boxes full of old paperwork I would like to avoid adding to it.

Manchesterman - I have just scanned my referenced working papers. Paper copies were useful while I was working on it but now I have finished it made sense to scan and file that way.

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By Crouchy
20th Jan 2015 15:07

Less Paper

we operate a less paper policy the only files we keep are working papers, everything else is paperless

we keep a paper file for current years workings and prior years working papers - we find it easier to look at paper file to work through and to present to clients. once the year is finalised the prior year is scanned and shredded

all post is checked and scanned within a week of being here and then shredded


this system works well for us

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By Chris Maslin
20th Jan 2015 15:25


Make sure you have a back up.  By this I don't mean having the hard paper documents to back up PDFs, I mean your PDFs backed up.

If you don't know what you're doing, speak to a pro re back ups.  Can be a few n00b mistakes, one of which I might possibly have made before...

1) thinking a syncing system (Dropbox/Google Drive) is the same as a back up, it's not.  If you [***] up an item in one place, almost immediately that cocked up version is copied everywhere else.  Getting the previous version back isn't always easy.

2) thinking on site alone is a good solution.  Having a lovely second external hard drive linked to your main one might save you against some kind of hardware failure...but if someone breaks in and steals all your equipment, you've lost both.

3) thinking off site alone is a good solution. can be...but if you have a lot of files and your broadband is average, be aware that trying to get everything back when catastrophically lost will take a lo-ong time.

On the assumption you've got a decent back up, yes, shred all paper and feel good about yourself.

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By zarathustra
20th Jan 2015 15:38

Document management

Of the people who have gone completely paperless have you seen the need for a specialist document system like virtual cabinet (which is plugged by 2020 group amongst others).

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By Cloudcounter
20th Jan 2015 16:19

Document management

Like most people we started off by scanning documents and filing them in a standard windows directory tree with sub folders and sub sub folders.  That works, and is cheap as chips but it is cumbersome and suffers from one major drawback.  If you inadvertently click a folder you can drag it somewhere that it shouldn't be.  That folder and all of its subfolders then effectively disappears from your system until you find it again by hunting through all the other folders, whch can take ages or you eventually stumble across it when you are looking for somebody else.

We eventually swapped to a proper document management system, and would never even consider going back.  The security is much higher, searching is much much quicker and there is no risk of dragging files or folders somewhere that the sun doesn't shine.

We can then email directly from the system to clients or other people, annotate and put "post it notes" on the file, and there's a workflow system so that we can allocate a document to one of the team for action

Each category of documents is allocated a retention period (which can be indefinte) so you can weed out time lapsed files and keep the storage space needed under control

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By Paul Scholes
20th Jan 2015 18:32

Don't scan unless it's essential

It would be interesting to go back 5-6 years when this question would arise quite often and to read all those comments from people who said it would never happen.

Originally we would scan & file any bit of paper that came through the post and, even as a tiny practice, I could have employed a part-time person to do nothing else.  Eventually though you realise that just because someone sends you a bit of paper doesn't mean you have to scan it.

Think of all the paper that still comes out of HMRC & Companies House, practically all of it is only telling you stuff you already know, plus you can access it online anyway and so what's the point putting it through the scanner.

This policy also means we have never needed a doc management system.

Fortunately, these days only 1-2 clients ever send us the odd piece of paper and so the quantity scanned is minimal.  This means that, with regard to being scared over destroying the original, or misfiling the scan, we keep all scanned paper in a half ream bx, and when it fills up we destroy from the bottom, which is 6 months to a year old.

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By BroadheadAccountants
20th Jan 2015 19:33

Post about stuff you already know

Our clients are brilliant at sending information electronically and most paper is in from HMRC and CH (unnecessarily).


I would actually feel less secure with paper files for presumably copies are costly to make and not stored offsite too?


We already need chunky backups for our accounting software so why not add the client documents?

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By petersaxton
20th Jan 2015 19:38

I still print

If I have to work on a pdf of a bank statement I will still print it off because it's easier to deal with. I don't file the statement after use though because I still have the pdf.

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By ShirleyM
20th Jan 2015 20:02


The shreddings are perfect for mixing with grass cuttings in the compost bin. :)

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20th Jan 2015 20:21

Better system for paperless

than this

Would other software do people use and costs? 

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By sparkler
20th Jan 2015 20:56

really useful

This is a really helpful post. I am in the early stages of going paperless and feel like I spend my whole life scanning!  I am sure I scan some things I don't need to...

But I haven't yet been brave enough to scan and shred any engagement letters or signed accounts - I'm working up to it!

I'm also about to start going through client files where they send me all of their paper receipts and invoices, and send back to them everything I don't need from prior years "for their records". Then they can do what they like with it.

My practice is too small for a document management system, and I'm getting on fine with directories and sub-folders for each client, but I have already realised that it's important to be organised with storage of scanned items, as they are harder to find on a computer than in a paper file if they are not clearly labelled!

Thanks for all of the tips.


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By girlofwight
20th Jan 2015 22:05

Initally everything was scanned and then deep archived (boxes in a shed! Or three sheds in due course) on six year retention.

In due course it got to the stage we hadn't gone back to a paper copy of anything for five years, so we started shredding immediately after scanning,

Now, other than clients own books, the practice has no paper stored, other than a few days scanning backlog.

Take it at your own pace.

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By petersaxton
20th Jan 2015 22:15

Size of practice

I dont think you need very complicated software if you are a very small practice. I accept you wont get a practice smaller than mine (me!) but if you just need to look at the vast majority of documents once then you don't need too much. I have a ScanSnap scanner and use the software that comes with it as well as MS Office and my Digita software and Adobe Acrobat Pro and Windows Explorer.

Bigger practices may have to find documents and pass them from person to person.

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By cparker87
21st Jan 2015 07:45

Review Evidence
I come from a background where each file prepared is reviewed. I've continued this practice since taking on staff. I try to be paperless but quite often find myself printing the WP and Accounts to tick back to WP / comment on/review... then scan it again.

Does anyone take a different approach and manage to review it all on screen?

One tip that I could share with the folks starting out is to adopt a YYYY-MM-DD LT - Dwscription sort of structure. Storing documents prefixed with dates in this way shows them in date order (e.g. Letter date, date created, year end date) when sorting a folder on "name". Date modified and date created can be manipulated sometimes and this ensures the date is kept. LT indicates Letter From. Also use Email From, Call To, Call From, etc.

I believe if you OCR each PDF you can also make the index of client folders 'searchable'... We haven't got to that stage yet but that seems quite a powerful proposition.

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By torbenhalvorsen
27th Jan 2015 11:11

What HRMC Says about that

How to keep your records

HMRC asks you to keep the original documents which show you've had tax deducted.  For example if you're an employee your P60 form from your employer (which shows your pay and tax information for the tax year).

HMRC recommend you keep all the original documents you receive.  This does not mean you need to keep them on paper.  Most records can be scanned and kept electronically on a computer or a storage device such as a CD or memory stick.  Make sure that whatever you use to keep records you:

•         have both the front and back of documents

•         can easily access them so you can pass them to HMRC

You can check this information here and in fact HRMC even has a page where document management software are listed: (this does not mean we are certified by them but just that they looked at our software and felt it was suitable for the task).

By the way simply scanning to PDF is a first step in going paperless but far from being the most efficient one since you will end up duplicating files and documents. The best way is to go for the Capture-Process-Archive methodology and have all accounting documents directly linked to the transactions in your accounting software. 

Hope I could help.

Kind Regards,

Diogo Cavazzini

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By uktaylor
27th Jan 2015 11:49

I want/need a scansnap. Have recently started using Evernote then came across Scansnap.  Would love a so call paperless off if that is at possible.  Planning on starting on home paperwork first.  Do you scan to Evernote or straight to your computer?  

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By petersaxton
27th Jan 2015 12:45

Scan to computer

If you are a sole practitioner with no employees I think that is good enough.

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By BroadheadAccountants
28th Jan 2015 11:41

Excel leadsheet

We use an Excel leadsheet in which we make review notes and comments.  Everything is place in the one Excel file so if a client wants their records they can see the process we went through (bank analysis, Extended Trial Balance etc. etc.).


Regarding storing actual electronic files we only use separate folders for a couple of major clients and everything is in one big folder.  If you are working on XYZ Limited all client files start with this….


I wonder how others store their files?



Good suggestion but don’t you already get the date information on the file creation?


Good to have some precedents for consistency/ clarity.


I’d much rather be hunting on a computer for a file than rummaging around a cupboard.  I appreciate the actual electronic files can be destroyed easily.


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By Ken Howard
28th Jan 2015 11:50


I'm paranoid.  I have two live online data backups updating constantly and also do a synchronisation between 3 office PCs (with different OS and one of which isn't connected to the internet either), and also backup to portable hard drives which I take home.  So I have several different mediums at different locations, so I'm fairly confident I won't suffer data loss.

However, I actually prefer a paper file as it's quicker and easier to flick through a correspondence file to "get a feel" of the client again, rather than wade through pdfs on screen.  I did once go all digital and left my paper files untouched, but I actually made a couple of school-boy mistakes by missing some data from past years, so I dusted off the paper files and weeded them instead of destroying them.

My paper files are now very light.  I only keep two years' of working papers and only have permanent/long term documents in the file.  So FA register, tax reliefs and elections, asset base costs, loss relief summaries etc.  I have about 100 files in one filing cabinet, so that gives you the idea of how small they are with just the core vital documents.

Whenever I weed, I scan the documents again before destruction, so that's another bit of paranoia just in case any document hadn't already been scanned before filing!

Sounds a lot of work, but takes only seconds when it becomes part of the system.

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