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Our Guide to UK Security Clearance

By . December 20, 2018

Our comprehensive guide to UK security clearance and a free DV checklist

UK Security Clearance is a crucial process that plays a significant role in safeguarding national security, ensuring the protection of sensitive information, and maintaining the integrity of critical institutions and organisations within the United Kingdom. It is a comprehensive evaluation and verification process carried out by government agencies to assess the suitability of individuals who require access to classified information or sensitive areas.

Brief contents summary:

  1. What is Security Clearance
  2. Types of Security Clearance
  3. Can I only apply if I have a spotless history?
  4. How long is Security Clearance valid for?
  5. Is my application kept confidential?
  6. How do I get my first Security Cleared job?
  7. Free DV preparation checklist download

What is Security Clearance?

Security Clearance is granted as proof of an individual’s suitability to access sensitive and classified information without posing risk to national security.  It is a protection measure and obtaining the SC status requires that an individual undergoes a vetting process. This process will differ depending on the level of clearance required for the particular role, with the higher levels of access requiring a highly rigorous vetting process. The process raises many questions which is why we have compiled this comprehensive guide to UK Security Clearance. If you are looking into becoming DV-cleared, our free downloadable checklist at the end of this article provides you with a breakdown of all the personal information you need to have ready before you begin applying.

IT professionals who hold Security Clearance are in very high demand and tend to receive higher remuneration than their non-SC-cleared counterparts. An SC Clearance increases future employment opportunities as it serves as a strong selling point, even for jobs that don't explicitly require Security Clearance.

Why do I need a Sponsor?

Obtaining Security Clearance is determined by the employing organisation, which sponsors the candidate's vetting process for the specific role.

Control, transparency, and efficient resource utilization are key factors in the Security Clearance process. A sponsor verifies BPSS and the need for higher clearance, streamlining the otherwise bureaucratic and resource-draining process.For non-SC-cleared candidates, there is fierce competition to secure a role that provides sponsorship for obtaining Security Clearance. Landing a job offer from a sponsoring company is the crucial first step, as it enables progression and a career in SC jobs. However, it creates a catch-22 situation: you need Security Clearance for an SC job, but you can't apply without a sponsor.

How long is Security Clearance valid?

Once obtained, Security Clearance lasts for 5 years for contractors and 10 years for permanent candidates. DV clearance is held for 7 years with a reinvestigation conducted after 5 years. If an individual decides to change jobs while their SC clearance still has time left on it, they are free to apply for other roles which require SC clearance. At this point they will not need to undergo the vetting process; they will be able to begin the work immediately. This is especially useful for contract roles which often require people to start as soon as possible due to the critical nature of the job which needs completing.

Different types of Security Clearance

Security Clearance in the UK is divided into four levels.

  • Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)
  • Security Check (SC)
  • Counter-Terrorism Check (CTC)
  • Developed Vetting (DV)

security clearance

Baseline Personnel Security Standard

Baseline Personnel Security Standard is the initial mandatory check for individuals with access to Government assets. While it doesn't provide access to classified information, progressing to higher clearance levels requires fulfilling BPSS requirements. The BPSS comprises identity checks – ID confirmation and right to work, employment checks for the last 3 years and a basic disclosure criminal record check.

security clearance counter terrorism check

Counter-Terrorism Check or CTC

Counter-Terrorism Check or CTC is used to check whether individuals have connections to terrorist organisations and examine the level to which they are vulnerable to pressure from such groups. This is checked on a personal level as well as a professional.  This clearance is required for anyone who has access to material that may be targeted by terrorist groups, anyone who works in close proximity to public figures and anyone who has unrestricted access to certain establishments.

security check

Security Check or SC

Security Check or SC is the most common type of security clearance. It is conducted for candidates that are entering jobs which would give them access to secret, and occasionally, top-secret government assets. This check includes going through MI5 records, doing credit checks, checking reports from previous employers and potentially a face-to-face interview. The candidate needs to have been a resident of the UK for at least 5 years.  SC is transferable between different Government departments and it covers a variety of jobs.

Obtaining SC includes the following steps:

  • BPSS clearance
  • Completion of an SC questionnaire
  • Departmental/Company Records Check
  • Criminal Record Check
  • Credit Reference Check and Security Service Check
  • Security Service Check

developed vetting

Developed Vetting or DV

Developed Vetting or DV is the highest level of security clearance available in the UK and therefore requires the most rigorous process. This is required for individuals with frequent/unrestricted access to Top Secret files or those whose job has the potential to cause similar devastation/damage through means other than exposing such files

This process requires the applicant to volunteer a large amount of personal information as it is of utmost importance that a full picture of the individual is painted in order to guarantee reliability and establish confidence. However, it is not an interrogation and should not feel like one. If the applicant would find such a process unacceptably intrusive it might be worth reconsidering applying for DV clearance, as there is no way to avoid it.

Here are some of the main topics that tend to get covered in the interview:

developed vetting interview questions

Can I only apply if I have a spotless history?

While the process is rigorous and highly detailed, the eligibility criteria are fairly widely encompassing. At a basic level, the applicant needs to have been a resident in the UK for at least 10 consecutive years. For some roles, especially national intelligence ones, individuals must be British Citizens to apply. While the vetting process includes examining the applicant’s criminal record, financial situation and things like a history of substance abuse; this should not be a problem for most professionals. And in some cases, Security Clearance can be granted to individuals despite having a criminal conviction, although this is not standard practice and should not be something an individual with an obviously questionable history relies on.

The MI5 clearly states that:

“Vetting officers are not employed to make moral judgements – they expect that people will have had varied life experiences and they will take a realistic view of modern life and its pressures. They are aware that life can be complicated and any difficulties that you have experienced will be carefully considered.”

The vetting process is conducted by highly experienced vetting officers who examine each application on a case-by-case basis, so individuals can be confident that their application process will be conducted with utmost care and attention.

It’s all about honesty

Honesty is crucial in the application process. While it may be tempting to embellish or omit details, we strongly advise against it. Security Clearance is a testament to one's integrity and trustworthiness in handling sensitive information. Approaching the process without integrity will backfire. Thorough background checks, especially for higher clearance levels, can uncover hidden information, jeopardizing the applicant's chances of obtaining SC clearance.

Confidentiality

United Kingdom Security Vetting (USKV) take privacy and confidentiality very seriously – not just their own but also that of the applicants.

They abide by the Data Protection Act 1998 and ensure that personal data is kept in a lawful manner; that it remains accurate, up to date and used for no other purpose apart from national security vetting.  Each questionnaire that is to be completed as part of the vetting process clearly outlines how the data provided will be used.

Vetting records are usually kept by the UKSV for the duration of the individual’s working life. Privacy and security standards are upheld throughout, regardless of whether the individual holds a ‘live’ security clearance and irrespective of how sensitive or not the data might be.

Any personal information collected is handled with extremely strict confidence. Only if serious risks are identified – and this is an incredibly small number of cases – would the case be discussed with relevant security authorities.  In a few cases, some information might be shared with line management with the goal of managing risk. In these scenarios, the applicant’s permission will always be asked for prior to doing this.


How do I get my first SC job?

To overcome the "Catch 22" situation of obtaining your first SC-cleared job, there are proven strategies to enter the field.While going for a contract SC role may seem like a good option to gain clearance and then move on to your desired job, the most successful path to building a Security Cleared career is actually starting in a permanent SC role.The challenge with contract SC roles is finding an employer willing to wait for the lengthy clearance process. Contract positions are often short-term and time-sensitive, requiring individuals with existing clearances to start immediately. Delays of weeks or months, common with SC and DV clearances, are simply not feasible.Permanent roles, on the other hand, naturally involve a delay between the application, job offer, and start date, regardless of whether SC is required. Factors such as notice periods, budget constraints, and other variables affect the start date. Organisations seeking permanent SC candidates are more likely to wait for the clearance process, especially if the applicant possesses a strong background and relevant experience. These organisations value the SC clearance as it allows them to benefit from the individual's expertise.Therefore, targeting permanent SC roles provides a greater likelihood of finding employers willing to wait for clearance, offering a viable pathway into the Security Cleared career you desire.

Keen to get going?

Obtaining higher-level clearance is laborious, but Security Cleared work offers job satisfaction and access to valuable information. At Certes, we collaborate with public sector organizations and suppliers seeking cleared candidates. Explore our current job openings and contact us for advice.

it jobs find IT professionals

Developed Vetting preparation checklist

Follow the link to download your FREE Developed Vetting preparation checklist. It outlines all the documents and personal information you will need for your application - our recommendation is to get this ready before you begin.developed vetting personal information

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