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Making clearance clear

What is security clearance and why is it required?

Security clearances are official certificates which provide a level of certainty that an individual has been deemed trustworthy to have trusted access to sensitive information. There are different levels of security clearances, each of which grant trust and access to different levels of sensitive information and environments. Security clearances are in place and are required to ensure that the UK has protected itself from a range of threats which include foreign hostile intelligence bodies, organised crime groups, security threats and other external pressures.

How can you obtain a security clearance?

You can’t simply apply for a security clearance as an individual or as a limited company and you have to be in effect sponsored by an employer or company that holds the right to do so and this company will sponsor an application to UKSV (United Kingdom Security Vetting unit).

In order for the company to sponsor an individual, they must be ‘List X’ approved, which means they have passed a range of strict security vetting procedures and audits and they must have current or coming classified projects.

Security clearances are granted for specific periods of time (likely to be 3 years, 5 years, 7 years or 10 years) and they are kept under constant review to make sure they account for any changes in circumstances to ensure the appropriate level of assurance is maintained (likely to be a 6 month or 12 month questionnaire by the sponsoring company).

Security clearances can become inactive or lapse when leaving employment or moving off a classified project and the most common rule is that if you don’t use the security clearance for 12 months, it will lapse and you will have to re-undergo vetting from scratch. Security clearances can generally be transferred to a new employer, company or government body within 12 months of it last being used and it’s important that start dates and any moves are managed to ensure the clearance is protected and start dates reflect the transfer times.

What levels of security clearance are there?

Baseline Personnel Security Standard is usually the first step to all security clearances and BPSS is essentially a package of pre-employment checks. A BPSS check is normally needed to work with any government body, the armed forces and any private sector company with access to government contracts, information or assets. A BPSS check will consist of a 3 year employment reference check (gaps in employment can be covered by personal references), criminal record check and right to work in the UK check. A BPSS check typically takes 1-3 weeks to complete.
A counter terrorism check is required for people who will have access to information, people, assets or environments which would be considered at risk from terrorist interests. A CTC check will involve a BPSS check, departmental or company records check, security questionnaire, criminal records check and Security Services check. The clearance will be valid for a set period of time before it has to be renewed and CTC usually requires you to be a resident of the UK for a minimum of 3 years.
Security check (SC clearance) is the most common form of clearance that we recruit for and is required for anyone with access to SECRET or occasional, controlled and supervised access to TOP SECRET assets and information. A full SC clearance process will involve:
  • BPSS check
  • Criminal Record check
  • SC security questionnaire
  • Credit Reference checks
  • Departmental / Company Records Check
  • Security Services check
SC clearance typically take 1-3 months to complete and SC eligibility normally requires you to have been a resident of the UK for a minimum of 5 years.
Developed vetting is the highest level of security clearance in the UK and is required for individuals who would have substantial unsupervised access to ‘TOP SECRET’ information, assets or environments. This is most common for people working in national security / intelligence or defence bodies.

A DV clearance process will consist of:
  • A BPSS check
  • Criminal Record check
  • Credit reference checks and review of personal finances. This will likely include looking into incomes, assets, expenditures and may take into account spouse or partners finances and any joint liabilities
  • DV Security Clearance questionnaire
  • Departmental and company records check
  • Checks of medical and psychological records and information provided
  • Security Services check
  • An interview with the individual and may include interviews with the individual’s character referees and current/previous work supervisors
  • Drugs check to determine if any illegal drugs have been consumed in the last 12 months
Once the process has been completed the information is assessed and a decision made whether to approve or decline the application for DV clearance. The DV clearance process normally takes around 9 months but this can be quicker or longer depending on the complexity of the case and the availability of vetting bodies to complete the process. Gaining DV clearance will normally require that you have been a resident of the UK for a minimum of 10 years and DV clearance is granted for a set period of time, after which a review must be conducted in order to renew the clearance.
With all these clearance checks, it is important to be as honest and open as possible. The process isn’t designed to look for the perfect citizen, but just to judge a persons trustworthiness and risk to assets and as such, any concealed information could jeopardise the chances of passing a security check.

There are a range of additional and less common security clearances (such as NATO Secret, NATO Cosmic Top Secret, NPPV-3) as well as special cases to bear in mind when transferring clearances, looking for employees with existing clearances and moving into contracting roles from permanent employment. Please get in touch with us to discuss in more details any questions you have and we’ll be on hand to help!

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