How to get Security Clearance in the UK

Before you can start any role within the UK defence or public sector, more often than not, you will need to obtain security clearance. And of course, just because you’ve been security cleared before, it doesn’t mean you are exempt from further security checks in the future as national security policies change and the expectations within different jobs evolve. So what is security clearance? And how do you get it?

Security clearance is a series of checks that determine your level of risk when working with sensitive and potentially secret government information. Chris Thornton, Department Manager - Maritime, explains more:


“Essentially, security clearance is all about making sure that people working with sensitive and potentially secret information are trustworthy individuals who will keep that information private and safe. For example, Project Managers working on naval procurement programs will naturally have access to sensitive information about new warship specifications so the stakeholders of the project, like the Government, need to make sure that the person in that role is responsible and doesn’t pose a threat to security.”

The 4 types of security clearance

There are four different levels of security checks, each differing in depth depending on what the role you’re applying for entails: Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) Counter-Terrorism Check (CTC), Security Check (SC) and Developed Vetting (DV).

BPSS is the most basic and low-level of the checks and tends to be used in the pre-employment stage. Its aim is to ascertain how trustworthy a prospective candidate is through checking their identity, employment history and criminal record.

CTC is the next highest-level check and is for those who’ll be working with sensitive data, those who are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and those who work in areas that have unrestricted access to certain government or commercial establishments. For example, a mechanical engineer conducting maintenance on ships in a naval dockyard.

The most common level of clearance is SC and is for jobs which would give the candidate access to secret government assets or occasional controlled access to top secret assets. This involves the checking of MI5 records, credit checks, staff reports from employers and, sometimes, a face-to-face interview. This kind of check tends to be renewed and reviewed on a ten-yearly basis.

DV is the highest level of security clearance and is for those who’ll have substantial unsupervised access to top secret assets or will be working with intelligence and security agencies, like MI5 (Security Service) or the NCA (National Crime Agency).

The security clearance process

If a role requires you to be security cleared, the relevant security checks will be arranged by the person hiring you but will be carried out by a Government agency. As a minimum, you’ll be asked to prove your identity (including your nationality and immigration status) and complete a Criminal Record Declaration Form. Higher levels of clearance tend to require more intense background checks on your criminal record, a credit reference check and a security service check.

Depending on the level of vetting required, security clearance can take anywhere between 1-2 days (BPSS), 6-8 weeks CTC or six months DV (CTC and DV), with Security Checks taking between 4-12 weeks.

Chris Thornton offers advice to help speed up the process:

“The forms can be complicated, especially if you’re filling them out for the first time. My advice is to read the guidelines thoroughly and complete the security paperwork as soon as possible – if you delay on this, it will only make the process longer. Lastly, be sure to triple check the forms before processing them; mistakes or missing information will extend the time it takes for clearance to be processed.”

You can find more advice on our career advice pages.

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