How to get Security Cleared

Security clearance or National Security Vetting (NSV) provides a certain level of assurance at a point in time as to an individual's suitability to have trusted access to sensitive information.

To gain a UK security clearance, an individual must undergo a process of examination and evaluation, including a background check, before employment is offered to them. The system applies to people whose employment involves access to sensitive government assets, information or personnel.

Security cleared personnel can include crown servants, members of the security and intelligence agencies; members of the armed forces; the police; employees of certain other non-government organisations that are obliged to comply with the government’s security procedures and employees of contractors providing goods and services to the government.

UK security clearance is required to protect assets against threats from hostile intelligence services, cyber security threats, terrorists and other pressure groups. The results of the vetting process determine who can be given access to sensitive government information or property.

All candidates who apply for jobs that provide access to sensitive information or sites are asked to complete a security questionnaire. The personal details recorded on these questionnaires enable the necessary checks to be carried out. Interviews will also be undertaken, where necessary. The depth of checks varies according to the level of access to sensitive information that the job entails.


How Do I Get A Security Clearance?

To apply for a security clearance in the UK, you need a sponsor, which is usually your human resources officer or company security controller. The sponsor must confirm that your role requires a security clearance and that a Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) has been carried out. Then, your sponsor will create an application and you’ll receive a link to complete a security questionnaire.

It’s important to know that you cannot apply for a security clearance as an individual - it must be requested by an employer and carried out by government agencies. Whilst your sponsoring organisation will own the application, vetting is carried out by the United Kingdom Security Vetting unit (UKSV), launched on 1 January 2017. The UKSV was created following the Strategic Defence and Security Review to create a single vetting unit for the UK. This has created a single vetting database, with set pricing and portable vetting across government departments

Security clearance in the UK requires an organisation to achieve List X Facility Security Clearance (FSC) accreditation. Formerly known simply as ‘List X’, this refers to any company, contractor or subcontractor that has been formally assessed and reached the required level to hold, process or manufacture material at secret or top secret levels on the premises.

List X FSC isn’t available on request and must be sponsored by a contracting authority. This can be:

  • A Ministry of Defence entity, usually a project team
  • A number of government departments
  • A company with existing List X FSC accreditation, although any move to appoint a subcontractor must be approved by the original contracting authority
  • NATO if a contract requires a UK enterprise to hold a NATO clearance level
  • Foreign governments if a contracting authority requires a UK enterprise to be awarded List X FSC.

List X FSC accreditation endures for the period of a particular contract but can be reactivated within 12 months if required.

Any company that holds List X FSC will be required to undertake the industry personnel security assurance (IPSA) policy. This outlines what is needed to gain a national security vetting account and therefore ensure employees are granted clearances when necessary. This is provided at the discretion of the accreditors, in accordance with the IPSA policy and public law principles.

Eligibility for IPSA requires companies to:

  • Be registered with Companies House
  • Have a legitimate need to provide NSV individuals for classified contracts, or be applying for List X FSC
  • Hold a minimum population of 20 NSV individuals or be predicted to meet this within three years of confirmation of meeting IPSA standards
  • Have its NSV operations based in the UK and hold an existing contract with the MoD or international equivalent, a subcontractor within the MoD supply chain or international equivalent, or an international defence organisation such as NATO
  • Have at least one member on the board of directors who resides in the UK and is a British national

It is important to note that security clearance is usually granted for a specific period of time depending on the employment term or for a particular project. It does not provide a guarantee of future reliability, and all security clearances are kept under review to ensure that the necessary level of assurance is maintained. 

Should any information come about that raises doubts over an individual’s security clearance, it must be reported to UKSV immediately. This can be done by anyone via the NSV portal and anonymously if preferred. This process is also known as an Aftercare Incident Report (AIR).

Security clearance can be verified and transferred to a new employer if required. If you require clearance for a role, in certain circumstances, you will not be able to start your employment until clearance has been obtained. In some scenarios, a company may offer the option for a job to start on a lesser clearance, such as BPSS for instance, whilst the higher level of clearance is processed. The candidate will usually have restricted site access prior to full clearance being granted.



All personal information collected for NSV services is strictly controlled. Only the minimum amount of data needed for the provider to perform the check will be shared. Moreover, UKSV may share your personal information with certain parties, under specific circumstances, which include:

  • A sponsor organisation
  • Public authorities that maintain criminal records databases
  • The security service (MI5)
  • Credit reference agencies - UKSV currently uses Experian, whose privacy policy can be found here
  • Character, education and employment referees
  • Personnel security risk owners

If a security risk has been identified, UKSV or the sponsoring organisation may consider it necessary to share relevant information with an appropriate person. In this case, the applicant will be notified first.

In exceptional circumstances, UKSV may share information with a third party such as the police. This could happen if the data indicates a criminal offence might have occurred or is about to be committed, or if there is evidence that an individual is at risk of harm and/or that action is required to safeguard national security. In this instance, no consent or notice is required to be given.


What are the levels of Security Clearance?

There are five main levels of national security vetting, which include:

  • Accreditation Check - AC
  • Counter Terrorist Check – CTC
  • Level 1B
  • Security Check - SC
  • Developed Vetting – DV

To pass a CTC, you’ll also need to complete the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS). For more information, see government guidance here.


What is DV clearance?

Developed Vetting (DV) is a highly comprehensive form of security clearance, required for people with substantial unsupervised access to top secret assets or those working in intelligence or security agencies.

DV clearance is also required for individuals with access to classified material from a foreign country or international organisation, or who require uncontrolled access to Category I nuclear material.

  • A full DV Security Clearance process comprises the following mandatory vetting stages:
  • A Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS), which is normally undertaken as part of the recruiting process)
  • Departmental / Company Records Check
  • DV Security Clearance Questionnaire
  • Criminal Record Check
  • Credit Reference Check and review of personal finances. A search into income, assets and expenditure, which may take into account the joint position with a spouse or partner
  • Security Service (MI5) records check
  • Check of medical and psychological information provided
  • Interview of the applicant and further enquiries made, which will include interviews with character referees and current and previous supervisors

On completion of the vetting process, the information collected is assessed and a decision is made to approve or refuse DV Clearance. Once clearance is granted, it is only valid for a pre-determined period, after which a review must be conducted if clearance is still required.

The DV Clearance process can take up to 9 months before full clearance is granted. Gaining DV Clearance will normally require you to have been a resident in the UK for a minimum of ten years.


Developed Vetting (DV) renewal

If you already hold a DV Clearance you will be required to renew your clearance at intervals of no more than 7 years and more frequently if the risk owner has set a shorter validity period. Your sponsor will initiate a DV renewal. This carries the same mandatory checks as a DV clearance but may exclude the referee interview.


Enhanced Developed Vetting (eDV)

Enhanced Developed Vetting is required for a very small number of posts where an additional level of assurance is required above DV. It can only be requested by a small number of sponsors and only with prior agreement with UKSV and the Cabinet Office.


Security Check (SC Clearance)

A Security Check (SC, or SC Cleared) is required for people who have substantial access to secret assets, or occasional controlled access to top secret assets and determines that their character and personal circumstances would not mean they would be a risk with such assets.

A full Security Check Clearance process will include the following:

  • A BPSS, which is normally undertaken as part of the recruiting process
  • Departmental / company records check
  • Security Questionnaire
  • Criminal record check
  • Credit reference check
  • Security Service (MI5) records check

On completion of the process, the information collected is assessed and a decision is made to approve or refuse an SC level security check. 

The time taken to gain SC clearance can vary depending on the applicant, although the Ministry of Justice guidance states that for new checks the average vetting time is six weeks from the completion of the application. 


Enhanced Security Check (eSC)

An Enhanced Security Check allows regular uncontrolled access to secret assets and occasional, controlled access to top secret assets. It is used for specific roles where an additional level of assurance is required over SC, but not to DV level.


Counter Terrorist Check (CTC Clearance)

A Counter Terrorist Check (CTC, or CTC Cleared) is a clearance required for people who work in close proximity to public figures, who have access to material or information that may be valuable to terrorists, or whose role involves unrestricted access to government or commercial establishments considered to be at risk from terrorist attack.

A CTC Clearance level does not allow access to, or knowledge or custody of, protectively marked assets, but the Baseline Personnel Security Standard allows a degree of access.

The CTC Clearance process involves the following mandatory stages:

  • BPSS
  • Departmental / company records check
  • Security questionnaire
  • Criminal record check
  • Security Service (MI5) records check

On completion of the vetting process, the information collected is assessed and a decision is made in favour of approval or refusal.  


Accreditation Check (AC Clearance)

An Accreditation Check is necessary for any individual requiring an Airport Identification Card or UK air carrier Crew Identification Card. Additionally, any person who provides aviation security training or is responsible for air cargo security standards will need this security clearance.

AC security clearance comprises of:

  • Proof of identity
  • Employment and education checks
  • Criminal record check
  • Check against records held by UK security agencies

Normally, an AC clearance is valid for up to five years, as long as the sponsoring organisation complies with the ongoing provision of data. Otherwise, it’s valid for 12 months.



NATO has four levels of security classification:

  • NATO Restricted (NR)
  • NATO Confidential (NC)
  • NATO Secret (NS)
  • COSMIC Top Secret (CTS)

NATO's clearance levels function independently of any clearance levels for other nations. However, it is understood that for most NATO nations, granting a NATO Security Clearance is handled similarly to that of obtaining a national security clearance.


Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) and Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Services (EDBS)

DBS checks are for positions involving certain activities and high levels of responsibility such as teaching children or dealing with vulnerable adults and can also be obtained for certain other professions such as judicial appointments or RSPCA officers.

In addition to the information provided on a Standard Certificate, the Enhanced Certificate also involves a police check to ascertain if any other information is held on file that may be relevant for consideration (for instance, information that has not led to a criminal conviction but may indicate a danger to vulnerable groups). The police decide what (if any) additional information will be added to the certificate using the Quality Assurance Framework.

The involvement of local police forces can mean an Enhanced Check may take significantly longer to be completed than a Standard check.

An Enhanced Check may only be applied for if the applicant's job role is specified in both the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exception) order 1975 and the Police Act 1997.


Basic Personnel Security Standard (BPSS Clearance, formerly Basic Check) and Enhanced Baseline Standard)

BPSS and EPS (formerly Enhanced Basic Check or Basic Check +) are not formal security clearances but are a package of pre-employment checks that represent good recruitment and employment practice.

These aim to provide an appropriate level of assurance as to the trustworthiness, integrity, and probable reliability of prospective employees. They should be applied to:

  • All successful applicants for employment in the public sector and Armed Forces (both permanent and temporary)
  • All private sector employees working on government contracts (e.g. contractors and consultants), who require access to, or knowledge of, government assets protectively marked up to and including confidential

Baseline Security Clearance checks are normally conducted by the recruitment authorities or companies to the agreed standard. These checks underpin the national security vetting process; therefore, they must be carried out properly and thoroughly before any further vetting is completed.


Security Industry Authority (SIA)

The Security Industry Authority (SIA) operates the compulsory licensing of individuals working in specific sectors of the private security industry within the UK. The activities licensed under the Private Security Industry 2001 regulation pertain to manned guarding, which include:

  • Cash and valuables in transit
  • Close protection
  • Door supervision
  • Public space surveillance (CCTV)
  • Security guard
  • Immobilisation, restriction and removal of vehicles
  • Key holding   


Useful links

If you're ready to take the next step in your career and search for a security cleared job, use the links below to find out more information or start hunting for openings today.