If you’re placed on a contract where you’ll have access to sensitive information or assets, you’ll need to hold valid security clearance. So, what levels of clearance are there, and how easy is it to apply for contract work?
Security checks are undertaken mainly by DBS National Security Vetting (formerly the DVA) for new applicants, or to renew an existing clearance to work for bodies such as Central Government or the Ministry of Defence.
The topic of security clearance is a thorny one for contractors, as for many, security cleared roles can be hard to secure unless you already hold valid clearance – despite Government and industry guidance which states that recruiters and agencies should consider all candidates for SC roles.
Security Clearance Levels
The levels of National Security Vetting are governed by the deemed sensitivity of the post being applied for:
- Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) checks are carried out by screening references and client ID’s, and are not considered to be formal security clearances.
- Counter-Terrorist Check involves further checks against UK criminal and security records. This type of clearance is not intended for those likely to handle sensitive information.
- SC (Security Clearance) – the most widely held type of clearance for people likely to access sensitive information on a regular basis. An interview may be involved in some instances.
- DV (Developed Vetting) – the most comprehensive type of check, for individuals likely to have long-term access to ‘TOP SECRET’ material. Applicants will face a detailed interview, as will the applicant’s referees.
The Application Process
Depending on the level of clearance, a wide amount of personal data must be submitted – from your employment history, to your personal finances, and those of your partner (if necessary). Depending on the level of cover being applied for, you will have to have been a UK resident for at least 3 years before applying.
Clearance is granted for the lifespan of the project being applied for, although contractors still holding SC or DV clearance at the end of a contract can typically transfer this cover to another assignment following some additional checks.
Problems for Contractors
Contractors and businesses can not apply for clearance personally – they must have a sponsor, which will typically be their prospective client.
Despite Cabinet Office guidelines which forbid recruiters from advertising solely for security cleared candidates, a ‘Catch 22′ position remains today whereby non-cleared contractors can be shut out from applying or certain sensitive roles.
A recent study carried out by BUCSIS and PCG shows that the situation today represents a ‘serious market failure’ over the way candidates are recruited for Government roles – as clearance should apply to roles, not to individuals.
This particular report showed that the Cabinet Office guidelines were routinely flouted in order to “speed up the recruitment process’, and as recruiters are not legally obliged to comply with the guidance, there is no reason to believe that the security cleared ‘closed shop’ mentality will end any time soon.
PCG, one of the main campaigners for a fairer SC system, has guidance and guides here. The organisation also urges contractors who believe they have been unfairly barred from applying to a sensitive role to contact the Cabinet Office (details via the link).