When you, your organisation or an employee has work pertaining to government or public projects, it’s sometimes necessary to obtain a security clearance (sometimes referred to as a Security Check). It might be that you’re involved in the import or export of controlled goods, for instance; or you’re contracted to work on government projects in the UK, and your operations will involve crossing the border. In situations such as this, to avoid risk and bolster national security, the UK government might require a security clearance process.
There are four main government security levels, as stipulated by the Ministry of Justice:
With efficiency and speed so vitally important, this leads many to ask the question: how long does SC clearance take?
In order to get security clearance, you must follow a process known in the UK as national security vetting (UK government). This involves a series of background checks about the applicant, their situation and personal history, and is used to determine any risks in granting access to potentially-sensitive material.
Depending on the type of clearance being applied for, national security vetting can typically take from six to 18 weeks.
The security clearance process can be split into five sections:
1. Applying for / renewing security clearances
Note: this is not applicable to applicants for an Accreditation Check.
You need to have a sponsor with UK citizenship. This is usually a human resources officer, a personnel officer or security controller. The sponsor will confirm the need for security clearance and the appropriate level.
With this completed, the applicant will be given a link to complete a security questionnaire.
2. Activating the NSVS portal and submitting questionnaire
Again, this section is not applicable to applicants undergoing an Accreditation Check.
The government provides information and guidance on the National Security Vetting Solution (NSVS) portal on its website.
If the government requires further information, they will contact the applicant directly while they perform the necessary cross-checks.
3. The vetting interview
Vetting officers will contact the applicant to arrange a vetting interview, which typically takes around three hours.
The interview will consist of some questions concerning the applicant, their life and their personal history. Vetting officers conduct an interview in order to build a complete picture of the applicant, and determine factors such as:
4. Decision processing
With the security clearance process completed, there will follow a period of adjudication, and a decision will be reached as to whether the applicant presents a risk to national security.
If officers deem the applicant unsuitable to be granted access to sensitive assets, they will deny security clearance; this signals that the application has been unsuccessful. In the event of clearance being denied, the applicant will be informed of the reasons why this decision was taken.
5. Appeals process
There is an appeal process available for applicants who have had their clearance withdrawn or denied.
Within the four levels of clearance (BPSS, SC, CTC and DV), there are seven separate types of clearances. Below, we’ll walk through each of the clearances in turn.
The BPSS is recognised as the standard security clearance for the pre-employment screening of individuals with access to sensitive government assets. Though not a formalised security clearance per se, its application is the foundation for further vetting processes.
An number of private companies offer BPSS checks, in line with government requirements. On average, BPSS checks take approximately 6 days.
AC clearances are needed for people who have independent access to controlled areas in UK airports and are typically valid for 5 years, provided the sponsoring organisation is in ongoing compliance with provision of data. Where this requirement is not met, AC checks last for 12 months. Some elements will be performed by the employer, an airport operator or air carrier.
CTC checks are needed for individuals who work in close proximity to public and government figures, or whose career brings them into contact with assets which might be vulnerable to terrorist attacks. CTC security clearance takes a minimum of 6 weeks, and must be formally reviewed after 10 years (or 5 years for non-List X contractors).
This is required for people who will have far-reaching access to SECRET, or occasional controlled access to TOP SECRET assets. SC clearance asserts that the individual would not pose a risk in handling sensitive information. The answer to the question, how long does SC clearance take can vary, but on average the process will typically last for 6 weeks.
Similar in nature to SC, an eSC grants regular uncontrolled access to SECRET assets, and supervised access to TOP SECRET information where necessary. It is used for roles where security clearance in excess of SC is needed, but not up to the level of DV.
Developed Vetting is the highest level of security clearance, intended for individuals with regular uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET assets. It would also be required for those working in high-level Intelligence or Security services. DV must be formally reviewed at intervals not exceeding 7 years, and will take a minimum of 18 weeks to obtain.
The only remaining security clearance level is Enhanced Developed Vetting, limited and available to a very small number of individuals. It will only be considered where an exceptional amount of unrestricted access is required to TOP SECRET information, justifying the necessity of clearance in excess of DV level.
eDV may only be requested by an extremely limited number of Sponsors, and only by prior agreement with UKSV and the Cabinet Office.
With the basic information regarding each SC clearance established, we’ll turn our attention to the eligibility criteria, extent of asset access, and relevant checks pertaining to each SC level.
Any individual with access to government assets will need BPSS. This would include civil servants, military personnel, temporary department staff, and any government contractor.
They will gain authorisation to access:
BPSS checks will involve:
AC clearances are needed for any persons fulfilling work responsibilities or a job role which:
Accreditation Checks will involve the verification of:
People whose work brings them into close proximity with public figures deemed to be at risk from terrorism will require CTC clearance.
They will gain authorisation to access:
CTC checks involve:
If an employee has frequent, unsupervised access to SECRET or periodical access to TOP SECRET information, they will need SC clearance. SC clearance is also required for people who:
Security Check processing will consider elements such as:
An Enhanced Security Check would be needed for an individual requiring to access SECRET and (occasional access to) TOP SECRET assets, but not requiring full DV clearance. It is only available to holders of:
The following checks may be involved in eSC:
Only those individuals needing regular and substantial, independent access to TOP SECRET classified information, or relevant codewords, would need to seek DV clearance.
Similarly, if a person might:
DV checks involve the following procedures:
As stated, only a very small number of posts may request or hold eDV clearance.
eDV checks involve:
Now that we know more about the various security clearance levels, along with their eligibility requirements and the extent of access they facilitate, we’ll get to grips with some of the most frequently asked questions our clients have regarding security clearances.
BPSS checks do not expire, though they may be repeated by new employers.
Security Check (SC) classification is valid for 5 years for government contractors and 10 years for permanent employees. Moreover, it is transferable between departments.
To put it briefly: yes, it is possible to fail SC clearance.
This means the individual’s application has been unsuccessful, and access to relevant assets denied. There are a number of reasons why a clearance application may be unsuccessful, including:
In order to check the status of your security clearance application, get in touch with your vetting officer. Alternatively, you may be able to find more information through the UKSV.
Though it can be a confusing and laborious process, failure to obtain the proper security clearances can impede your operations, prevent bidding on certain projecst and limit employment opportunities. The best way to mitigate this risk and ensure that you or your employees possess the necessary clearance is to seek a consultation with our expert team.
If you want to discuss the nature of your operations further, and the types of security clearance you might be required to make an application for, utilise our specialist cross-border consultancy services and get in touch with clearBorder today.