What is security clearance?

Some roles within Government organisations and projects require security clearance. This occurs where access to classified material is required.

Whilst it may sound rather glamorous, such clearance is often needed for fairly typical roles in Government departments, which understandably take security seriously and are cautious about whom they allow to access their systems and premises. You do not have to be working for a Government client directly to need security clearance - working for a subcontractor on Government projects can also require clearance. Occasionally, roles in other sectors may require clearance if they involve work on critical parts of the national infrastructure. This could be the case with utilities, air traffic, and, more rarely, financial services trading infrastructure.

What levels of security clearance exist?

There are three levels of security clearance, or 'National Security Vetting'. These are the Counter Terrorist Check (CTC), Security Check (SC), and Developed Vetting (DV).

How do I get it? Can I apply “on demand”?

The Government states that “for legal and policy reasons, security clearance is not available on demand”. Instead a contractor must be put through the clearance process by a “sponsor” – typically either the immediate client, or the Government department engaging that client. The sponsor is officially the holder of the clearance, NOT the contractor. Some clients are what is known as “LIST X” sponsors. This status is given to companies that are trusted and need to clear large volumes of individuals.

Security clearance “involves a degree of intrusion into a person’s private life” according to the Developed Vetting Agency. Usually an extensive form will have to be filled in, allowing access to various personal details. An interview may also be a part of the process. Details of you or your partner's finances, amongst numerous other details, may be requested.

Criminal Records Bureau checks (CRB check), which confirms whether you have a criminal record, is not a level of security clearance. However, it is possible for a contractor to have a CRB check on demand, for a small fee, from some organisations.

How long does it last?

Security clearance is intended only to last for the life of the project it has been applied for.

However, your clearance will remain open for twelve months in case you are recalled on the project. Whilst technically this clearance is linked to the original post, the clearance can be transferred to the new client after a few basic checks. After a year of no security cleared work your clearance lapses.

Do I need to hold a British passport to get clearance?

No. Clearance is judged on residency rather than nationality so you do not need to hold a British passport to get cleared. You do however need to have been resident in the UK for a certain period of time. You should talk to your sponsor about this before applying.

My agency/client wants me to be cleared before I start work, what should I do?

Many contractors are able to work on site while clearance is being processed, as long as there is some supervision.

A client should not however, reject candidates out of hand because they do not possess clearance. IPSE, together with the Cabinet Office and REC - the main body which represents the recruitment industry in the UK - developed guidelines to prevent such actions by recruiters.

I keep getting rejected from roles asking if I’m “willing to attain security clearance”

A client should not reject candidates out of hand because they do not possess clearance. IPSE, together with the Cabinet Office and REC - the main body which represents the recruitment industry in the UK - developed guidelines to prevent such actions by recruiters.

I have seen a contract advertised which asks for contractors with pre-existing security clearance only, is this allowed?

This is in a number of instances against the guidelines laid down by the Cabinet Office. Whilst not illegal (the guidelines are not legally binding), this should be reported to the Cabinet Office by email: vettinggroup@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk

What is IPSE doing about this issue?

IPSE has been working hard on this issue for many years. We have developed guidelines with the Cabinet Office and REC, and encouraged the Cabinet Office to establish an email address for contractors to report discrimination.

Security Clearance