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Security Clearance for Contractors: What is it and Why Would You Need It?

Last updated on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Written by Alex Cadman

Security clearance, provided by United Kingdom Security Vetting (UKSV), is required by some personnel to have when carrying out work that involves accessing and/or handling sensitive information.

Due to increasing demand for security-cleared personnel, some contract postings might require you to have security clearance, particularly if the contract is:

  • In a government body, such as a local council
  • In a security or intelligence agency
  • In a non-government organisation that must adhere to government security procedures, or
  • Providing goods or services to a government body, for example if you were an IT contractor working on a project for a public sector body

There are many sectors in which you might find contract roles requiring security clearance, including, but not limited to:

  • Central government
  • IT and cyber security
  • Counter terrorism
  • Engineering
  • Policing
  • Legal
  • Security
  • And more

How do I become security cleared?

To take on a contract or assignment that requires security clearance, you need to go through a vetting process. You cannot do this as an individual; your contract provider must sponsor you by requesting clearance for you on your behalf when considering you for a role. The UKSV will then carry out the security vetting process.

There are three levels of security which you could be cleared for. The level of clearance you would be required to hold depends on the role you are applying for, and how sensitive the information is that you would be dealing with:

1. Counter Terrorist Check (CTC): this would be required if your prospective role involves working closely with public figures or accessing certain establishments potentially at risk of a terror attack.

2. Security Check (SC): this is common for IT contractors who carry out work for the public sector. If you are SC cleared in the UK, you are considered trusted to work frequently and in an uncontrolled way around secret assets and sensitive information for a long period of time.

3. Developed Vetting (DV): this type of vetting, which is the highest level of clearance, is required of someone who has “long term, frequent and uncontrolled access to top secret information.”

Before you can undergo security clearance by UKSV, your sponsor must be able to verify they have done any relevant screening before requesting security clearance. This might include the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) or the Enhanced Baseline Standard (EBS).

You do not have to hold security clearance prior to applying for an assignment that requires it; those who advertise for candidates already holding security clearance could be seen as discriminatory by the Cabinet Office.

How long does the clearance process take?

The length of the process depends on the level of clearance requested by your sponsor. A CTC can take up to six months, and an SC could take a minimum of six weeks; however Developed Vetting, the highest level of security clearance, could take three to six months or longer due to its complexity and the sensitivity of contracts that require DV.

Why would it be worth applying for a contract that requires security clearance?

Although the clearance process could take weeks or months in some cases, there are still some advantages to applying for a security cleared role.

For one, there is demand for contractors at security cleared organisations, especially in the IT sector where public institutions are developing and improving infrastructure all the time.

You should be aware of the IR35 legislation that applies to contractors working in or for the public sector – the implications of which mean you may need to work through an umbrella company if you take on a public sector contract. This reduces the higher take home pay benefits as seen from a limited company, however increasing demand for security cleared contractors could mean opportunities for you to access higher rates and earnings.

Don’t let the idea of becoming security cleared deter you from applying for a role you really want. Your recruitment agency, if you have one, will be able to support you through the process.

Visit our blog home page for more helpful information on contracting and freelancing, or contact us if you are looking for a contractor payroll or accountancy service.

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