Security clearance basics
Only an employer can apply for security clearance – it is not possible to do so as an individual. And all applications require a sponsor – which is usually the client.
If an application is successful, the government will grant a specific level of clearance for a fixed period of time.
The length of time depends on the type of clearance applied for.
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.
This is despite Government and industry guidance which states that recruiters and agencies should consider all candidates for SC roles.
So, what levels of clearance are there, and how easy is it to apply for contract work?
Security Clearance Levels
Security checks are undertaken mainly by UKSV (UK Security Vetting). This replaced the Defence Vetting Agency in 2017.
The extent of the checks required for a given contract job depend on the deemed sensitivity of the role.
You can read a full definition and scope of each level on the UK Security Vetting site here.
Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)
Checks are carried out by screening references and client IDs, and are not considered to be formal security clearances.
Accreditation Check (AC)
Required if the application involves unescorted access to restricted areas of UK airports, to to provide aviation training. Or to validate air cargo security.
Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)
Required if the applicant has access to public figures vulnerable to terrorist attacks, or information of potential value to terrorists.
SC (Security Clearance)
The most widely held type of clearance for people likely to access sensitive (secret) information on a regular basis. An interview may be involved in some instances.
Enhanced Security Check (eSC)
Required when the applicant has regular access to secret information. Plus occasional access to “top secret” material. This is a higher level of clearance to SC, but not as high as DC.
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.
Enhanced Developed Vetting (eDV)
This level of clearance is only required for a very limited number of roles, where even more reassurance is required. Unlikely to ever be needed by IT contractors.
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. Howewver, 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’. 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.
You can read about the vetting process and all other aspects of security clearance on the UK Security Vetting site.
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