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Getting Security Clearance as a UK Contractor

Depending on the type of contracting work your contracting company carries out, you may find that you need security clearance. This post will guide you through the different types of clearance and how a contractor can obtain them.

What is a contractor?

Essentially, a contractor is someone who performs work for a company, or organisation, on a contractual basis.

Often, contractors work on a self-employed basis, either as a sole trader, or through their own limited company.

What is security clearance?

Security clearance often refers to the process of running background checks alongside the vetting process of an individual.

These processes are used to determine whether the individual can be deemed as trustworthy. This can lead to the sharing of certain sensitive information with the individual.

Generally, security clearance is required for anyone working with information pertaining to national security, or other such sensitive information. For example, contractors working for the Ministry of Defence are usually required to have security clearance.

Can I obtain security clearance myself?

In short, no. Contractors are unable to apply for security clearance by themselves. Instead, it is necessary for their client to request the security clearance on their behalf.

When this happens, the client is known as the ‘sponsor’ of the person and the act of requesting the security clearance is known as ‘sponsorship’. The sponsor will often be the Ministry of Defence, another governmental department, or a business which holds a governmental contract.

The different levels / types of security clearance

Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)

The BPSS is not considered a formal security clearance, but it is required for contractors who will have access to any government assets. It is also a pre-requisite for the other types of security clearance.

The BPSS allows access to UK official assets, and occasionally to UK secret assets. It is needed for any contractors working in areas where they may overhear secret, or top secret information. Alternatively, is it required for anyone who needs to access the Public Services Network (PSN).

The following information will need to be provided for the BPSS to be carried out:

  • Identity
  • Employment history (last 3 years)
  • National and immigration status
  • Unspent criminal records
  • An account of any significant time spent abroad (classed as 6 months or more), over the last 3 years

Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)

The CTC is designed to mitigate against the risks of a terrorist gaining access to information which could compromise national security.

There are a few reasons a contractor could require a CTC:

  • Proximity to public figures who have been assessed as at risk of attack.
  • Access is needed to information, or material that has been assessed as of value to terrorists.
  • If unescorted access is required to any military, industrial or commercial establishment that is deemed to be at risk from a terrorist attack.

The following will be required for the CTC to be carried out:

  • A successful completion of the BPSS
  • Completion of a security questionnaire
  • A departmental, or company, records check which includes certain personal files (e.g. sick leave and security records)
  • A check of spent and unspent criminal records
  • Check of security service records

If there is anything additional required, the contractor may also be interviewed as part of the process.

Security Check (SC)

SC’s will need to be undertaken by contractors who are assigned to posts which require them to have long-term, frequent, and uncontrolled, access to secret assets. Alternatively, if supervised access is required to top secret assets.

An SC can also be required in the following circumstances:

  • If the contractor can gain sufficient knowledge which would allow them to obtain a comprehensive picture of a secret plan / policy / project.
  • If the contractor is being considered for employment where it would not be possible to progress their career without having an SC in place.
  • If access is required to access a certain level of classified material that originated from another country or internal organisation.

The following are required for the SC:

  • Successful completion of the BPSS
  • Completion of a security questionnaire
  • A departmental, or company, records check
  • Check of spent or unspent criminal records
  • Check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency
  • Check of Security Service records

If there is anything additional required, the contractor may also be interviewed as part of the process.

If any financial concerns are brought up, the contractor may also be required to complete a financial questionnaire so that a full review of personal finances can be carried out.

There may be checks carried out on third parties included in the questionnaire.

Enhanced Security Check (eSC)

An eSC grants regular, uncontrolled, access to secret assets, and occasionally, controlled access to top secret assets.

The eSC is available for contractors who:

  • Hold posts in which access is required to secret code word material
  • Need access to certain specified information systems.
  • Have certain overseas posts that have been assessed as exposing the contractor to an espionage threat.

The following is required for the eSC:

  • Successful completion of the BPSS
  • Completion of a Security Questionnaire, Financial Questionnaire and Internet Questionnaire
  • A departmental, or company, records check
  • Check of spent and unspent criminal records
  • Check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency
  • Check of Security Service records

In addition to these checks, there will also be a detailed interview conducted by a trained investigating officer. Certain checks may also be carried out on third parties who have been included on the security questionnaire.

There will also be a full review of the contractors’ personal finances, including:

  • Assets
  • Liabilities
  • Income and expenditure

This financial review will consider their personal position and that of their spouse or partner, if applicable.

Developed Vetting (DV)

DV is required if the contractor holds a post which requires them to have frequent, uncontrolled, access to top secret assets or code word material.

DV is also required for contractors who:

  • Need to have uncontrolled access to Category I nuclear material.
  • Require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country, or internal organisation.

The following are required for DV:

  • Successful completion of the BPSS
  • Completion of a Developed Vetting security questionnaire
  • A departmental, or company, records check
  • A check of spent and unspent criminal records
  • Check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency
  • Check of Security Service records
  • Full review of personal finances

In addition to these, there will be a detailed interview conducted by a trained investigating officer.

Certain checks may need to be carried out on third parties who have been included in the security questionnaire. There will be additional interviews carried out by the investigating officer, such as interviews with referees.

There will also be a full review of the contractors’ personal finances, including:

  • Assets
  • Liabilities
  • Income and expenditure

This financial review will consider their personal position and that of their spouse or partner, if applicable.

Enhanced Developed Vetting (eDV)

eDV is required for a small number of posts which require more stringent security checks than are provided through DV.

The following are required for the eDV:

  • Completion of a special Developed Vetting questionnaire, including an element of family and travel
  • Check of spent and unspent criminal records
  • Check of Security Service records
  • Check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency
  • A full financial investigation

Additionally, there will be interviews carried out by a trained investigating officer of the contractor, their supervisor and referees. Checks may also be extended to third parties included in the security questionnaire.

As with the DV application, there will also be a financial review, considering their personal position and that of their spouse or partner, if applicable.

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