In short – a security clearance check is a process carried out by military organisations, government agencies and certain private companies to assess a person’s eligibility for access to sensitive or classified information, projects or facilities.
The primary purpose of a security clearance check is to ensure that individuals with access to sensitive information or areas are trustworthy, reliable, and do not pose a security risk. This is particularly crucial in safeguarding against threats from terrorists, hostile intelligence services, cyber security threats, and other possible pressure groups.
All candidates who apply for jobs that provide access to sensitive government assets, information or personnel must gain security clearance before employment is offered to them.
The results of the security vetting process determine who can be given access to sensitive government information or property and the depth of checks varies according to the level of access to sensitive information that the job entails.
Different Levels of Security Clearance in the UK
In the UK, security clearances are granted at different levels, depending on the level of access to classified or sensitive information an individual requires for their role.
The 4 different levels of security clearance in the UK are categorised as follows:
- Baseline Personnel Security Screening (BPSS)
- Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)
- Security Check (SC)
- Developed Vetting (DV)
1. Baseline Personnel Security Screening (BPSS)
BPSS is an entry level security check, i.e. the lowest level of security clearance, and is often the starting point for individuals entering government employment. BPSS clearance is required for access to certain government roles, especially those that involve handling public funds, and typically involves basic background checks to confirm an individual’s identity, nationality, and criminal record.
What Does a BPSS Check Involve?
A BPSS check involves verification made up of the following 4 parts:
- Right to work– Verifying an individual’s right to work in the UK, which may involve checking nationality and immigration status and work permits.
- Confirming Identity– Confirming the individual’s identity via an ID data check, including their name, date of birth, and nationality. This helps ensure that the person is who they claim to be.
- Criminal records – Conducting a criminal record check to identify any relevant criminal convictions or cautions. Individuals found with certain serious convictions may be ineligible for obtaining BPSS clearance.
- Employment history – Confirmation of past 3 years employment (minimum) history or activity.
In addition to these checks, candidates are required to disclose any significant periods spent abroad (6 months or more in the past 3 years).
While the BPSS check is relatively straightforward compared to higher-level clearances, it is still essential in ensuring the trustworthiness of individuals working in roles where a basic level of security and integrity is required.
2. Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)
A CTC is a clearance designed for individuals who work in close proximity to public figures, who have access to material or information that may be valuable to terrorists, or whose role involves unrestricted access to government or commercial establishments considered to be at risk from terrorist attack.
The main purpose of a counter terrorist check is to prevent individuals who may have connections with terrorist groups, or who may be vulnerable to pressure from them, from undertaking certain duties where sensitive information could be compromised.
What Does a Counter Terrorist Check Involve?
A counter terrorist clearance process includes checks on an individual’s identity, criminal record, and immigration status, and involves the following mandatory stages:
- BPSS – Before proceeding to a CTC, individuals must undergo a BPSS check (outlined above).
- Application and Sponsorship – An individual cannot apply for a CTC on their own – they must be sponsored by a government department, agency, or organisation that requires the clearance for a specific role or access to sensitive information.
- Security questionnaire – The personal details recorded on this questionnaire will enable the counter terrorist security checks to be carried out.
- Departmental/company records check – This might include personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records.
- Criminal record check – A thorough criminal record check is conducted to identify any past criminal activities or convictions.
If there are any unresolved security concerns about the individual or if recommended by the Security Service, the individual may also be interviewed.
3. Security Check (SC)
A security check is a mid-level clearance and the most common type of vetting process. Individuals who require substantial access to secret and occasionally top secret assets and information will need security clearance, common in government and defence-related job roles.
The purpose of a security check is to determine whether an individual’s character and personal circumstances would not mean they would be a risk with such assets.
What Does a Security Check Involve?
A security check involves more extensive background checks, including financial and criminal checks, as well as interviews with the candidate and references.
A full Security Check Clearance process will include:
- Successful completion of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard
- A security questionnaire
- Departmental/company records check
- A check of both spent and unspent criminal records
- A check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency
If there are any unresolved security concerns about the individual, or if recommended by the Security Service, they may also need to be interviewed. Additionally, if there are any unresolved financial concerns, the applicant may be required to complete a separate financial questionnaire so that a full review of personal finances can be carried out.
The time taken to obtain security clearance can vary depending on the candidate, although the Ministry of Justice guidance states that for new checks the average vetting time is 6 weeks from the completion of the application.
4. Developed Vetting (DV)
DV clearance is the highest level of security clearance in the UK and is required for individuals with access to the most sensitive and classified government information, often classified as “top secret” or “above top secret.”
This rigorous and comprehensive security check is much more specialised and assesses an individual’s suitability, loyalty, and trustworthiness to handle the most sensitive national security matters. People with DV clearance are often involved in roles directly related to national security.
What Does Developed Vetting Involve?
Developed vetting clearance involves a comprehensive investigation into an individual’s background, including their personal, financial, and criminal history, as well as interviews and character references. To gain DV clearance, you will typically need to have been a UK resident for a minimum of 10 years.
There are several stages to the vetting process – all of that included in the security check (outlined above), plus:
- Completion of a developed vetting supplementary questionnaire
- Medical and psychological information checks
- Interviews with the applicants referees
- A detailed interview conducted by a trained Investigating Officer
The full review of personal finances will include an assessment of the applicant’s liabilities, assets, income and expenditure on both an individual basis and taking into account the joint position with a spouse/ partner.
At Fuse Group, we have experience providing project teams to central Government departments within all 4 levels of security clearance.
Our extensive network of security cleared associates range from BPSS to DV Strap III (UKIC), all focused on Government Digital Services assignments, and our security cleared consultants can provide a trusted and reliable presence throughout the digital transformation journey.
To discover more about how we can support Governments & Consultancies in secure transformation projects and programmes, get in touch with our experts.