Everything you need to know about BPSS clearance

The Baseline Personnel Security Standard, more commonly referred to as BPSS, is the minimum screening requirement for employees who have access to government assets.

BPSS was introduced in 2006, replacing the Basic Check. Those who hold the clearance are permitted access to UK OFFICIAL assets and, on certain occasions, UK SECRET assets.

As the most basic form of personnel security control, BPSS is a prerequisite for many higher levels of clearance, including the Security Check (SC), Counter Terrorist Check (CTC) and Developed Vetting (DV).


What is BPSS clearance?

BPSS is a prerequisite for any individual working within, or on behalf of, a government department. This includes contractors, civil servants and members of the armed forces.

These positions often involve working with highly sensitive information, so organisations conduct vetting before hiring employees using BPSS as a benchmark to measure best practices.

According to the UK government’s BPSS guidance, the main purpose of the screening is to act as a precautionary measure for confirming the identity of individuals and offer assurances of their integrity.

Ultimately, BPSS exists to safeguard national security, preventing sensitive information from falling into the hands of malicious threat actors that may intend to use it at the detriment of British interests.


Who is BPSS clearance for?

The BPSS isn’t a formal security clearance, but its application underpins the national security vetting process for many other levels of clearance.

Any individual with access to government assets, including civil servants, government contractors, members of the armed forces and temporary staff within departments will be required to pass the check before their employment can commence.


What does BPSS clearance give access to?

According to UK government guidelines, BPSS clearance gives individuals access to:

  • UK OFFICIAL assets, as well as occasional access to UK SECRET assets
  • Areas where SECRET and TOP SECRET information may be overheard
  • The Public Services Network (PSN)

BPSS clearance would not be adequate for an individual whose position requires access to a comprehensive SECRET plan, project or policy. In this instance, a formal security clearance must be issued.


How long is a BPSS clearance valid?

For British nationals, a BPSS check never technically expires. If a professional remains employed by the same organisation in which they passed their initial vetting, it can be held continuously.

This is also true for an individual who leaves their role but returns within a year. If an employee moves to another business, their new employer might accept the existing BPSS clearance. 

However, organisations are legally obligated to undertake many of the screening elements such as a right-to-work check, so a responsible company will conduct the whole process again to avoid risk.


Obtaining BPSS clearance

The BPSS check was brought about to reduce the risk of illegal workers and mitigate identity fraud. Because it is a legal requirement for government roles and helps to protect national security, the request must be initiated by an employer before an employee can start the application process.


How long does it take to get a BPSS clearance?

BPSS checks are not very intrusive and, as such, often take between five to ten days to complete. The majority of delays occur when candidates or employers enter information incorrectly, or if the third party handling the employment history and DBS checks, for example, needs to confirm or ask for more information.


What background checks are conducted as part of a BPSS check?

A BPSS check is comprised of four key elements, known as ‘RICE’. Candidates must pass all of these to obtain their certificate. 

The four elements of RICE are:

  • Right to work - if candidates are legally entitled to fill the job
  • Identity - a comprehensive ID check
  • Criminal record - basic disclosure checks are conducted during BPSS vetting
  • Employment history - minimum last three years of employment activity

Depending on the specific role and the candidate’s visa status, the right-to-work check must be conducted every 12 months. Employers that fail to comply with this can be penalised with a significant fine or even face a five-year jail term, as outlined by the UK Home Office.

A candidate’s identity can be confirmed either physically, using documentation from an approved list, or by implementing a commercial identity verification process.

Employers face severe fines and prison time if caught hiring an illegal worker. As such, this is scrutinised during the BPSS check. Additionally, some government roles are reserved for UK nationals, making it even more important that organisations confirm the identities of candidates.

Employment checks are crucial to ascertain a candidate’s identity and character. This can highlight issues such as poor behaviour or CV fraud and in some cases, the individual could be found to have been employed under another identity.

Once completed, the candidate’s employer will store their BPSS Verification Record internally. Organisations are legally required to keep this information secure in accordance with EU GDPR and must ask permission before processing any candidate’s data.


What happens if a candidate fails BPSS screening?

Sometimes, one of the four RICE components may be deemed unsatisfactory, or there could be a legitimate concern about an employee that would prevent them from obtaining BPSS clearance.

The employer, or sponsoring party, will attempt to determine whether or not the individual provided adequate information to satisfy the check. Following this, if the BPSS clearance still cannot be awarded, the offer of employment will be withdrawn.

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