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?

Crown Servants, Civil Servants, Central Government employees, Intelligence agency employees, members of the armed forces, police officers and some staff members, employees of other companies that have contracts in place that have access to sensitive information both permanent and contract in many difference industries like Defence, IT, Cyber Security, Nuclear, Consultancy etc.

Who makes the decision whether Security Clearance is required?

The United Kingdom Security Vetting unit (UKSV) who are part of the Cabinet Office oversee the setting the policy for UK National Security Vetting.  The level of clearance required for a post will depend on the company and the responsibilities required for the individual post. 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 future potential role requires it. This could be because the assets that you will have access to 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 checks and questions that are part of the security vetting process can be intrusive but are necessary to provide a solid understanding of the individual who may be in a position where they have access to sensitive material. Security Clearance is not compulsory and is the choice of the individual to undergo the vetting process. If you choose to not go through the process it may affect the chances of gaining employment for a particular department or employer.

Is it necessary for so many questions on the SC Clearance form?

The volume of questions on the questionnaire can look extensive but most are very straightforward. It is 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 on any questions it would be best to contact whoever gave you the forms to complete.

If you realise after you have returned 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 security clearance with a criminal record?

Every application for clearance is treated individually and will consider how serious the offence was, how long ago since the crime was committed, the age of the offender at the time etc. The best policy is to declare all convictions spent or unspent including cautions, as any attempts to conceal a conviction, irrelevant of how minor 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 the timescales that you must have been resident in the UK can vary from three to nine years. The vetting unit will check your work and living history. They cannot always liaise with foreign governments to check where you may have stated you were living for a period of time. You do not have to be a UK national to gain security clearance, but this will be down to each individual clearance as some foreign states and nationalities may seem more of a threat than others.

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 fact that was concealed would not have meant you would have failed the clearance initially. If after you have gained the clearance and the information was then discovered the clearance may also be reneged.Paperwork

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

The hiring company (via their vetting officer) will have the final say on whether the applicant gains security clearance. It is not always as simple as a pass or fail as the vetting unit will assess the risk element on each application. Different companies or government departments may have a higher or lower risk appetite depending on information accessed within that role.

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, that 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?

The company that is conducting your clearance has a system to appeal if your clearance application is rejected. If you still do not agree with the decision and reasoning behind it, you can contact the independent Security Vetting Appeals Panel.

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

There are several reasons why a potential applicant may fail a security clearance UK and be refused clearance. 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: Four out of the last five years for a SC clearance and nine out of the last ten years for DV.
  • Financial irregularities, such as CCJs or high levels of debt that may make an applicant a target for bribery or who may not be trusted with financial assets.
  • Employee records, any indication from employer records 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 point of clearance, then this will also raise questions on 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, espionage etc., the right to refuse clearance may be used.
  • 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. 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 of 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?

Medical information will only be asked for if necessary, at a DV level. The officer may ask for details of your doctor to verify that you have no current medical or psychological conditions that may have an influence to handle sensitive information.

What will my referees be asked in their interview?

You will only have to provide personal referees at DV level of clearance. You should ideally identify somebody who has known you for a significant part of your life. The referee will be asked to describe you as a person and your character in order to get a 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 (DV clearance level) but occasionally at the SC (SC clearance level). Checks will be made with the credit reference agencies and you may be asked to complete a financial questionnaire. This will include all assets, liabilities, income and monthly expenditure and commitments. The reasoning behind the checks is to see whether you may have been in financial difficulties in the past or presently and may be vulnerable to financial intimidation. Mortgages or credit cards that are part of monthly living expenses are not usually due for concern unless they have fallen into arrears.

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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