Security Clearance questions answered

A security cleared job can offer great prospects for both high salaries and long-term career growth. But the process of getting clearance can be complicated. To help ensure you're ready, here are some of the most common questions we hear about working in these sectors.

Who is subject to security clearance?

Any individual working for the government, or an industry partner, who requires access to sensitive information, assets or equipment, will need to obtain a security clearance. 

Who decides if a security clearance is required?

The United Kingdom Security Vetting unit (UKSV) - a part of the Cabinet Office - oversees vetting for security clearances in the UK.  The specific clearance level required for a post will depend on the company and the responsibilities required for the individual position. The clearance levels can change at any time according to any variation of responsibilities.

Why do I require a security clearance?

If you have been asked to complete a security questionnaire it may be because your role, or a future position, requires it. This could be because the assets and information that you’ll access - if compromised - could be of danger to national security.

How can I check the status of my security clearance?

You can check your Security Clearance with your current vetting officer. Alternatively, you can find more information via the UK Security Vetting Unit (UKSV).

How intrusive is National Security Vetting?

The vetting process can be understandably intrusive, but it’s necessary to provide a clear understanding of each applicant. Having a security clearance isn’t compulsory and it’s your choice whether or not you wish to undergo the vetting process. If you decline, it could affect your chances of gaining employment within a particular sector, employer or department.

Why are there so many questions on the clearance form?

The volume of questions on the questionnaire can look extensive but most are very straightforward. It’s best to read through the form in its entirety, as you may need to collate some additional information in order to complete it. You will need to answer all of the questions asked in order for the checks to commence. If you are unsure about any questions, contact whoever gave you the forms for clarification.

If you realise after returning the documents that you have omitted some information, it is best to contact the UKSV as soon as possible, as this may influence the clearance being granted. Ensure that you have signed the questionnaire in all the appropriate places as this will avoid any unnecessary delays in processing the application.

Can I get a security clearance with a criminal record?

Every application for clearance is treated individually and will consider how serious the offence was, how long ago the crime was committed, the age of the offender at the time and various other factors. The best policy is to declare all convictions - spent or unspent - including cautions, as any attempts to conceal a conviction may be seen as evidence of being untrustworthy or dishonest.

Do I need to have lived in the UK for a certain duration?

Depending on the level of security clearance that you are applying for, you’ll need to have lived in the UK for a sufficient period of time to enable appropriate checks to be carried out and produce a reasonable level of assurance. However, especially sensitive posts, such as with security and intelligence agencies, are reserved for UK nationals.

A lack of UK residency won’t inherently stop you from achieving a security clearance, but the decision-makers will need to consider what checks can be carried out and the information available to make a decision. Depending on the type of security clearance you’re applying for, this may range from three to ten years. 

Can I keep quiet about something on the application form?

Misleading or concealing information on a security questionnaire or at the interview stage is considered a very serious matter. Your security clearance could be refused even if the information you concealed wouldn’t have initially led to a failure. If, after you have gained the clearance and the information was then discovered, the clearance may also be revoked.

Who makes the decision on whether security clearance will be granted?

The final say on whether or not you gain a security clearance falls to UKSV, the department or police force that requires you to hold it, or a Security Unit that carries out this task on behalf of several departments. The decision-makers will take into account all relevant information gathered throughout the vetting process and compare this against the security requirements of your job.

What is the process once a security clearance has been granted?

All security clearances are constantly reviewed by the relevant departments and vetting units. It is also important that if any of your personal circumstances change, for instance, marriage, change of partner or any criminal convictions, these are reported to your vetting officer.

How long does my security clearance last?

Most clearance, once completed, will be for a fixed time period i.e. five or ten years, but this is on the basis that the cleared individual is still working within that role. If you leave the vacancy that you were cleared for then the clearance may reduce or lapse.

If you had a DV level of clearance this will reduce when you leave to an SC level for a period of 12 months from the end date and then will lapse totally and the clearance process will have to start all over again for a new clearance. The SC clearance again will lapse 12 months after you have left the position that it was initially for and again the process will have to be completed again.

Can my clearance be transferred from one client to another?

Security clearances are done on an individual basis and are conducted for each job role specifically. If, however a company is looking to engage with an employee or contractor who already has an existing level of security clearance then it is possible for that company to hire the individual with their existing clearance and then transfer the clearance to their own vetting unit and take the responsibility of the clearance process going forward to their own vetting. This does not happen in all cases as sometimes certain government departments will not recognise other department clearances and so a new clearance will have to be conducted.

Can I appeal if my clearance is rejected?

If you are refused clearance, the organisation that made the decision should tell you if you have the right to appeal. If so, it will explain the process you’ll need to follow. Depending on the organisation, this might involve two stages, with the chance of a further internal review at a higher level if your appeal is rejected at the first hearing.

What are some of the reasons for Security Clearance being refused?

There are several reasons why a potential applicant may fail to gain a security clearance in the UK. The aim of the vetting procedure is to ensure that a candidate is suitable for a specific role. Assurances must be in place to ensure the candidate will not prove to be a threat, be trustworthy and have a verifiable background. We have listed a few examples below

  • Applicant has not been a resident for long enough in the UK

  • Financial irregularities, such as county court judgements (CCJs) or high levels of debt may make an applicant a target for bribery or who may not be trusted with financial assets.

  • Employee records, including any indication that an individual may be a security risk or untrustworthy.

  • A criminal record, spent or unspent, is not necessarily a reason to bar a security clearance. Careful consideration may be taken in such cases to ensure that relevant records would not be a potential threat. If convictions spent or unspent are not declared at the point of clearance, then this will also raise questions about the applicant’s suitability for clearance and integrity.

  • Traces in the security services records. If the applicant or their immediate family have any ties to radical groups, terrorism or espionage, the right to refuse clearance may be exercised.

  • Gaps in employment history that cannot be confirmed or traced.

  • Refusal to answer some of the questions in the questionnaire or interview process.

What types of questions will be asked at the interview?

Interviews are held for higher levels of clearance such as the DV and occasionally CTC or SC level. The face-to-face interview will be conducted by a vetting officer from UKSV. The interview is to gain an overview of you as an individual, your character and to assess your capabilities to handle sensitive information.

As well as assessing your risk element as a candidate, it is also to ensure that you would not be put in a situation that would conflict with any of your values or beliefs.

You would be expected in the interview to answer questions on your family history, past experiences, sexual orientation, health, drinking habits, any drug-taking (past or present), financial situation, political stance (but not who you support directly), hobbies, foreign travel history or connections. All questions must be answered, and you are expected to be as frank as possible.

You can ask to have a different vetting officer if certain questions make you feel uncomfortable and efforts will be made to conduct a second interview.

Will I have to provide medical information that may be confidential?

You will be required to complete a health declaration during the vetting process for secret and top secret positions, as the decision-makers need to take account of any factor that could influence your judgement. Any information provided will be treated with strict confidence.

What will my referees be asked in their interview?

Your referee should be somebody who has known you for a significant part of your life. They will be asked to describe you as a person and your character in order to get a clear and well-rounded picture of you as an individual. The information given will be referenced back to the answers provided in your own interview.

What is the purpose of the financial check and to what depth are the questions?

The financial checks are mainly for the DV level of clearance, but occasionally at the SC level too. Checks will be made with credit reference agencies and you may be asked to complete a financial questionnaire. This will include all assets, liabilities, income and monthly expenditures and commitments. The reasoning behind the checks is to see whether you may have been in, or could currently be experiencing, fiscal difficulties. If you are, you may be vulnerable to financial intimidation. Mortgages or credit cards that are part of monthly living expenses are not usually due cause for concern unless they have fallen into arrears.

Will my military service affect my security clearance?

Some positions in the military will mean you already have security clearance, which can be transferred to civilian jobs. It will need to be renewed if the appropriate amount of time has lapsed, however. Make sure all the information on your veterans ID card for the UK is correct. If you don’t have one, then you must apply for a veterans ID card.

Will a security check take my military related finances into account

Security checks include a financial background check, so make sure you disclose any information about the ex servicemen housing scheme, armed forces independence payment or armed forces compensation scheme instalments you receive. The armed forces pension calculator may also be a useful tool for your application.

If you're ready to take the next step and apply for a security cleared job, check out the links below.

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