Security Clearances: SC and DV
If you're applying for a role that requires a vetting process, you'll quickly realise there's no such thing as a single security clearance. In fact, there are a range of security clearance levels for different roles, some of which are far more intensive and stringent than others.
While almost all security cleared roles will require the basic Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS), there are many jobs where a more thorough background investigation is required.
Among the most common high-level security clearances in the UK are Security Check (SC) and Developed Vetting (DV). These are both rigorous processes and will be vital for anyone seeking a career in areas such as central government or defence. But what is the difference between the two, what does the process of getting cleared involve, and what roles will they open up for qualified candidates?
Understanding Security Check clearances
SC clearance is the most common form of security clearance in the UK. Being SC cleared is a requirement for any role that involves frequent access to documents classified as Secret, or occasional supervised access to Top Secret files in government or defence organisations.
To receive SC clearance, a candidate will need to have been a UK resident for at least five years and undergo the following:
- Completion of BPSS
- A full security questionnaire
- Checks on criminal records, credit and financial history, and Security Service records
- A review of work history, including personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records
If these processes raise any unresolved financial concerns, a more detailed investigation of personal finances may be required. In rare cases, an in-person interview might be necessary, especially if recommended by the Security Service.
SC checks usually take a minimum of six weeks to complete. However, once cleared, it will typically be valid for ten years for permanent employees and five years for contractors - though in some cases, a shorter period may be required.
The requirements for Developed Vetting
DV, meanwhile, is the highest government security clearance in the UK and is required for personnel who will require frequent and uncontrolled access to Top Secret material, either directly as part of their job or indirectly.
It is also mandated for personnel who will work closely with Category I nuclear material, or who require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country or international organisation.
As the most thorough form of vetting, you'll need to have been a UK resident for a minimum of ten years to apply for DV clearance and you can expect the process to take up to nine months to complete.
In addition to the same types of checks required for SC clearance, the vetting procedure for DV jobs includes a detailed interview with an Investigating Officer for both the candidate and their referees.
Reviews of matters such as finances also go into great detail, considering an individual’s assets, liabilities, income and expenditure - both on an individual basis and taking into account their spouse or partner.
Those who hold a DV clearance will be required to renew it after a maximum of seven years, though again, this may be more frequent if required by the employer. The renewal process will see the clearance holder undergo the same mandatory checks as initial DV clearance, though without referee interviews.
The security clearance process
As you can see, the main difference between an SC and DV clearance is the level of investigation that goes into the vetting process, which reflects the fact that DV cleared individuals will be expected to handle the most sensitive information.
While both are highly thorough processes, and SC level is often the minimum required for many jobs in central government or defence, DV allows you to work unsupervised with the country's most secret information.
Both clearances can be refused for a range of reasons, though DV requirements are typically more stringent. Issues that can lead to a clearance being denied include:
- Financial irregularities, such as large debts or CCJs
- Lack of UK residency
- Unexplained gaps in work history
- Poor records from previous employers
- Security Service flags, such as family members with ties to extremist groups, terrorism or espionage
- Failure to fully complete questionnaires
A criminal record is not necessarily a barrier to receiving security clearance, although a failure to declare any spent or unspent convictions may raise questions. Instead, criminal records are considered on a case-by-case basis and assessed for relevance.
What about higher-level security clearances?
For some roles, however, standard SC or DV clearances may not be enough. This may be especially the case if you're working with highly-sensitive government or military information.
In such cases, you may be asked to undergo an enhanced SC or DV process. In the government, these checks are required for specific roles based on the assets you would be expected to handle.
An enhanced Security Check (eSC) clearance allows for regular uncontrolled access up to Secret assets and occasional, controlled access to Top Secret assets. It is used where an additional level of assurance is required on top of standard SC levels, but not to the higher level of a full DV clearance.
Those who may need to undergo eSC clearances include:
- Individuals in posts where there is a requirement to access Secret code word material
- Roles that require access to certain specified information systems
- Certain overseas posts that may expose individuals to a significant espionage threat and/or have a lower than average level of management oversight
Enhanced Developed Vetting (eDV), on the other hand, is one of the strictest security clearances available in the UK, and is limited to a small number of specific job roles where DV alone is considered insufficient.
Only a small number of sponsors are able to request an eDV clearance and must agree this with the Cabinet Office and the United Kingdom Security Vetting service. As well as the standard DV checks, interviews will be required with both your supervisor and a referee.
As noted, securing either of these qualifications can be a lengthy process, which is why it can be advantageous to a candidate if they already hold the necessary clearances when applying for a position.
If you have either of these clearances, or are confident you can successfully complete the vetting process, a career in areas such as government or defence may well be right for you. Upload your CV today and browse our range of SC and DV cleared vacancies.