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HMG Personnel Security Controls

This guide was published by the Cabinet Office

Content

INTRODUCTION

This guide describes the government‟s personnel security and national security vetting policies and how the processes work including:

Why and in what circumstances personnel security and national security vetting controls may be applied

The information you may be asked to provide about yourself, your partner, your family and other third parties, and the checks that may be made against it

  • Decision making criteria and avenues of appeal
  • A statement of HM Government‟s personnel security and vetting policy and set of frequently asked questions and answers can be found at the end of this guide.
  • This guide is published by the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for protective security policy issues, including national security vetting. For more information, go to https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/security-policy-framework.

Cabinet Office

THE PURPOSE OF PERSONNEL SECURITY AND NATIONAL SECURITY VETTING

1. One of the Government‟s chief responsibilities is to protect national security – that is, to safeguard the country and the community against threats to order and well being. Traditionally, national security has been understood to mean the protection of the state and its vital interests from attacks by other states. Over recent decades this has broadened to include threats to the citizen and our way of life, as well as to the integrity and interests of the state more generally.

2. To protect national security the Government must have in place a range of protective security measures. Some of these relate to employees, temporary staff or contractors in sensitive or critical posts and may include a range of personnel security and other national security controls.

3. Government employees (and temporary staff and contractors) and individuals working in other parts of the critical national infrastructure potentially have access to a range of sensitive assets (personnel, physical or information) at risk from a wide range of threats. These threats may be related to terrorism, espionage, sabotage or serious organised crime, but vulnerabilities may also arise from disaffected insiders who could seek to exploit improperly, damage or compromise the assets to which they have access. Similar considerations also apply to UK nationals taking up sensitive posts in international organisations.

4. The purpose of personnel security controls (such as recruitment checks or national security vetting) is to confirm the identity of individuals (employees and contractors) and provide a level of assurance as to their trustworthiness, integrity and reliability. Whilst personnel security controls cannot provide guarantees, they are sensible precautions that provide for the identity of individuals to be properly established. In circumstances where risk assessments indicate that the necessary thresholds are met, they provide for checks to be made of official and other data sources that can indicate whether individuals may be susceptible to influence or pressure which might cause them to abuse their position or whether there are any other reasons why individuals should not have access to sensitive assets.

DETERMINING PERSONNEL SECURITY CONTROLS

Risk Management

5. Government departments and agencies employ a risk management approach to all aspects of protective security. Government organisations assess the risks that they face by weighing up potential vulnerabilities, potential threats, and the damage that could be done in order to identify appropriate and proportionate security measures, including personnel security controls. Across government departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) a range of controls are in place. These include minimum recruitment controls which need to be applied to those individuals with access to government assets; and incremental controls including national security vetting.

6. For further information please see “Risk assessment for personnel security – a guide” on the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) website – http://www.cpni.gov.uk.

Minimum Recruitment Controls – The Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)

5. Government departments and agencies employ a risk management approach to all aspects of protective security. Government organisations assess the risks that they face by weighing up potential vulnerabilities, potential threats, and the damage that could be done in order to identify appropriate and proportionate security measures, including personnel security controls. Across government departments, agencies and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) a range of controls are in place. These include minimum recruitment controls which need to be applied to those individuals with access to government assets; and incremental controls including national security vetting.

6. For further information please see “Risk assessment for personnel security – a guide” on the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) website – http://www.cpni.gov.uk.

7. All those with access to government assets are subject on recruitment to the requirements of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard. This includes all applicants for employment in the civil service and armed forces and applies to both permanent and temporary staff and private sector employees working on government contracts, with access to government assets. The Baseline Standard requires the verification of the following four elements:

  • a) Identity: to verify identity departments and agencies will ask candidates to provide, in advance of any final offer of employment, a selection from the following:
    Confirmation of name, date of birth and address National insurance number or other unique personal identifying number (where appropriate) Full details of previous employers (name, address and dates), over the past three years Confirmation of any necessary qualifications/licences Educational details and references where someone is new to the workforce Confirmation of permission to work in the UK if appropriate.
  • b) Employment history (past three years): As part of the Baseline Standard, Departments and Agencies must seek verification of a candidate‟s employment history, i.e. previous employers, jobs held and dates employed. They must also check any periods spent overseas for a total of six months or more during the previous three years. It is for Departments and Agencies to decide whether they wish to obtain references from previous employers (i.e. covering aspects such as an individual‟s skills or achievements) as part of their pre-employment checks.
  • c) Nationality and Immigration Status: the Civil Service, like any employer, is subject to the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and departments and agencies are required to verify whether or not new employees have the right to remain and work in the UK. In addition, civil employment under the Crown, in particular the Home Civil Service is subject to nationality rules which are statutorily based. More information on the Civil Service Nationality Rules is available from [http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/resources/nationality-rules].Therefore, as a potential employer, all government departments will take steps to verify nationality and right to work in the UK.
  • Criminal record (unspent convictions only): successful candidates will also be required to disclose an unspent criminal record via the Basic Disclosure service operated by Disclosure Scotland or Access Northern Ireland. Prospective employees who have recently come to the UK or lived abroad may be asked to provide overseas police certificates or certificates of good conduct where these are available so that a similar assurance can be gained.

8. Some departments may impose additional pre-employment checks (for example additional references). These will be explained to applicants by the appropriate recruiting departments and organisations.

Further information

9. Applicants for a vacancy who would like to know more about how to meet the requirements of the Baseline Standard should contact the recruiting department or organisation.

10. The Baseline Personnel Security Standard represents best practice in recruitment controls and similar personnel security measures are recommended by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) for individuals who are employed across the national infrastructure. See “A Good Practice Guide on Pre-employment Screening” at www.cpni.gov.uk/.

Incremental Controls – National Security Vetting

11. In some areas of work, either within government, the armed forces, the national infrastructure, the police, or security regulated industries more significant damage to national security could arise from the compromise of sensitive information or the abuse of access to sensitive sites, individuals or systems. The impact of such risks occurring may require additional precautions to be taken. These precautions will include enhanced physical, information and IT protective security measures.

12. They may also include more detailed screening of employees engaged in particular roles, over and above the requirements of the Baseline Standard which must be met before such screening can be carried out. In circumstances where it is assessed to be necessary and proportionate, national security vetting will be carried out. A statement of the government‟s policy on personnel security and national security vetting is at Annex A.

13. Whilst national security vetting provides such information about an individual as is required for security purposes, the constituent checks which make up the process can only offer a “snapshot”. Consequently information may be retained to carry out ongoing checks, and careful personnel security management arrangements will be put in place to ensure continuing assurance about an individual, whilst they work in such important and vulnerable areas.

The Vetting Process

14. National security vetting may be carried out on recruitment and at any point subsequently when changes in duties or responsibilities require it. Individuals will be advised by their employer (or prospective employer) if and when they need to be subject to national security vetting. It is government policy that individuals should not be expected to hold an existing security clearance in order to apply for posts or contracts that require vetting, except in exceptional circumstances where such posts are short term and need to be filled urgently.

15. No one is obliged to be subject to national security vetting. However, the occupation of a vetted post will be contingent upon successful completion of the process. Subject to a risk assessment conditional appointments may be made, pending satisfactory completion of the process.

16. In order to complete the process the vetting subject will be required to complete a number of forms (electronic and/or paper) known as “Security Questionnaires” that ask for a range of personal information to be provided.

17. These may be processed by the organisation that requires the clearance (the sponsor) or passed to an accredited national security vetting provider (for example the Defence Business Services Vetting (DBS-NSV) or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Vetting Unit) to carry out the checks on their behalf and assemble the information required to make a decision.

18. Decisions on national security vetting clearances will always be taken by the department (or police force) that requires the clearance. Paragraph 40 onwards describes the decision making process. Overall the objective is to ensure that the vetting subject is a fit and proper person to hold a national security clearance, and is unlikely to be in a position where they may abuse their access, submit to pressure or be suborned.

Component Checks

19. The three levels of national security vetting clearance are described in detail at Annex B, including the combination of checks carried out. At each level of clearance there will be checks against relevant Police and Security Service (MI5) records. Depending on the level of clearance, these checks will relate to:

  • the individual,
  • their partner and recent former partners, if any, their parents (and those of their partner)
  • other family members or people the subject lives with (e.g. co-residents)

20. More information on the Security Service‟s role in national security vetting is available at www.mi5.gov.uk.

21. In respect of existing employees, departments will also check against any records they may hold about the vetting subject, including work history and behaviour. Checks may also be made of financial circumstances (credit reference and financial management generally, including any financial commitments or assets held jointly with a partner), and medical records. Interviews with the vetting subject and/or referees may be carried out to clarify any issues that arise in the course of these checks.

INFORMING FAMILY AND PARTNERS

22. Vetting subjects may want to refer to this guidance those individuals who could be the subject of related record checks. Where an individual is applying for a particularly sensitive post the prospective employer may well offer you more detailed advice.

23. The security questionnaires will also ask vetting subjects to declare any association with individuals about whom they have security concerns. In these circumstances the subject should not inform the individual(s) of this.

RESIDENCY

24. For meaningful checks to be carried out individuals will need to have lived in the UK for a sufficient period of time, depending on the level of clearance, to enable appropriate checks to be carried out and produce a result which provides the required level of assurance. Whilst a lack of UK residency in itself is not necessarily a bar to a security clearance, decision makers will need to consider what checks can be carried out and the information available upon which to make a decision. Depending on the level of clearance being carried out this may range from 3 to 10 years.

INFORMATION HANDLING

25. Information gathered as part of the national security vetting process will be held securely, and only for so long as it is required. Relevant information will be passed to the organisations whose data is used in order to allow checks to be carried out (including the Security Service and the commercial provider of the credit reference check) for the purposes of national security vetting.

26. The department sponsoring the clearance (or vetting provider acting on their behalf) will maintain records of those individuals who have been security cleared, and may keep records of those refused a clearance or who have had their clearance withdrawn. If and when an individual changes jobs, these records may be shared with the prospective new employer if a national security vetting requirement to do so exists.

27. Vetting records will be used to support ongoing personnel security management, for example prompting renewals of clearances when these fall due, or to provide for periodic further checks against records.

LEVELS OF NATIONAL SECURITY CLEARANCE

28. There are three levels of national security vetting clearance: a Counter Terrorist Check (CTC), Security Check (SC) and Developed Vetting (DV). Each is configured to provide an appropriate level of assurance in respect of a range of threats, and the impact and damage that could arise from compromise, loss or improper exploitation of the information or other assets to which an individual has access.

29. The level of enquiries may vary subject to the level of clearance required, although at each level similar considerations will inform decision making.

30. The three levels of clearance, together with the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) which underpins them, are described in more detail at Annex B.

NATIONAL SECURITY VETTING CONSIDERATIONS

31. This section describes the type of information that will be considered as part of the national security vetting process. The process seeks to provide decision makers with an assurance that the vetting subject is suitable to exercise the responsibilities of the role for which the clearance is required, and does not present an unacceptable risk to national security. The process is not intended to catch individuals out or exclude any particular group of people other than those who present such a risk.

32. Some enquiries into personal circumstances, finances and lifestyles will only be made directly as part of the Developed Vetting (DV) or Security Check (SC) process, the considerations described below will be relevant to all national security clearance decisions. For example, whilst enquiries into an individual‟s behaviour or background are not generally made as part of the Counter Terrorist Check (CTC), the decision maker may still take account of such factors if they come to light.

RECORDS

33. A range of considerations may be relevant to a vetting decision:

  • Employee records: any indication from employee records of unreliability, relevant in a security context, for example instances of disciplinary action related to abuse of trust, carelessness, dishonesty, lack of discretion or disregard for security controls.
  • Criminal record information: whilst a criminal record (the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows for consideration of both spent and unspent convictions for national security purposes) is not necessarily a bar to a security clearance, the decision maker will need to consider whether any conviction is relevant to their assessment of suitability. The more serious, repeated, and more recent the offence(s), the more weight may be attached to it as an indicator of possible unsuitability. Failure to declare convictions on the security questionnaire may also give rise to serious concerns.
  • Traces in Security Service records: in a small number of cases, there will be national security concerns arising from checks undertaken by the Security Service against their records. These could include the individual or their family or associates having links with (or giving support to) terrorism, espionage or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Where information is held by the Security Service this does not rule out granting a clearance. If a vetting subject, family member or associate features in a Security Service record, the Service will advise the sponsoring department of the relevance and significance of the information it holds.
  • Financial irregularities: such as unpaid bills or debts, or other examples of poor financial judgment or management, excessive expenditure, or high levels of indebtedness.

34. Inconsistencies, discrepancies or gaps in information provided by the vetting subject that are not confirmed by checks against official records (for example in employment history) may prompt further enquiries.

PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES, PERSONALITY AND LIFESTYLE

35. Due consideration will also be given to the vetting subject‟s personal circumstances, personality and lifestyle. The process does not require individuals to conform to a given template and recognises that everybody‟s situation will be very different. Consequently a very wide range of factors may be considered, which could indicate: potential conflicts of interest; vulnerability (direct or indirect) to pressure; instances of irresponsible behaviour; poor judgment and lack of maturity; extreme beliefs; and serious physical or psychological disorders.

DECISION MAKING

36. The purpose of vetting is to determine whether the subject may present a security risk such that they should not be employed in a sensitive post. Vetting decisions will be taken by the department or police force which requires the clearance. Assessments will take into account all relevant information obtained during the vetting process including both positive and adverse information gathered in relation to the vetting subject. These factors are all carefully considered along with the security requirements of the post in order to reach a reasoned conclusion as to the subject‟s suitability for the level of clearance in question.

37. The process will consider whether or not any adverse information that arises is serious enough in itself to justify refusing or withdrawing a security clearance. When information of security concern about the subject is discovered, the assessor will consider a range of factors, including, where relevant, whether the subject has been as open as possible about the information and has resolved or appears likely to favourably resolve the concerns to which it gives rise.

38. In relation to conduct which may give rise to security concerns, the assessor will consider a range of factors, including: the seriousness of the conduct, the frequency, circumstances and reasons for it; and the potential it offers for associated pressure, coercion, exploitation or duress; and its implications for the subject‟s trustworthiness and reliability.

39. When considering the security significance of personal circumstances or behaviour that can lead to vulnerability, the assessor will not allow personal and cultural bias to affect their judgement. Personal circumstances or behaviour only become of security significance if they cause vulnerability to pressure or improper influence or may cause the subject to commit security breaches.

40. Existing employees will be notified when a clearance has been granted. Where a clearance is refused or withdrawn, individuals will be informed, and provided with reasons, where possible. They will also be provided with information about the mechanisms for internal and external appeal. Subject to where equality laws require it, there is no requirement to inform applicants for employment of the reason why they have been refused employment: where the decision is on security grounds, the individual should preferably be told of the reasons, although considerations of national security or confidentiality may prevent this.

ONGOING PERSONNEL SECURITY MANAGEMENT

RENEWALS

41. National security vetting clearances will be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that they reflect changes in circumstances, so periodically individuals will be asked to complete the security questionnaires again, and information held by the vetting authorities may be rechecked against updated records. Reviews can also be carried out at any time if material changes in circumstances are reported or come to light.

SECURITY APPRAISALS

42. In addition, depending upon the potential damage that could arise from the compromise of sensitive assets, individuals and their line managers may be asked to carry out an annual security appraisal process. This will require the vetting subject to declare any changes in personal circumstances or any other matters that could be relevant to their continued retention of security clearance. Similarly the line manager will be invited to comment on the individual‟s security awareness and/or raise any security concerns.

43. Anyone working in a national security vetted post will be expected to be mindful of security controls; maintaining good levels of security will be vital. Organisations will respect their employee‟s privacy, but will continue to assess their vetted staff after appointment to identify any changing or suspicious patterns that could give rise to security concerns. More advice about ongoing personnel security is available from the CPNI website: http://www.cpni.gov.uk/advice/Personnel-security1/Ongoing-measures/

44. In some cases it will be possible for valid clearances to be confirmed and transferred between government departments and the police. It is for the receiving department or police force to review and consider whether or not they are able to confirm or accept an existing clearance.

ADVERSE VETTING DECISIONS: APPEALS PROCESS

INTERNAL REVIEW MECHANISMS

45. For existing employees, the ways in which decisions to refuse or withdraw clearance may be reviewed will include an internal appeals process, independent of the original decision-making process.

46. An internal appeal may result in the original decision to refuse or withdraw clearance being overturned. The internal appeal process will provide for the arbiter having access to all the material available to the original decision maker, and may (if the decision was made upon the basis of advice from the police, or the security and intelligence agencies) ask to have made available the original material upon which the assessment was made and advice was given. They will operate as transparently as possible, within the bounds of national security and third party confidentiality. The arbiter of the internal appeal should consider (i) the decision (including scrutinising information upon which any advice relied upon was based) (ii) the decision making process and (iii) the level of disclosure provided to the appellant.

47. Appeals will follow natural justice principles. Individuals who hear appeals will have had no prior involvement in the case; in particular they will not have participated in the initial decision to refuse or withdraw the clearance, nor have discussed outside the formal appeals mechanism any aspects of the case with those who participated in the original decision making.

SECURITY VETTING APPEALS PANEL

48. The Security Vetting Appeals Panel is an advisory body which provides a final means of challenging a decision to refuse or withdraw security clearance, once an internal appeal has been dismissed. Its members are appointed through a process of fair and open competition. The panel is convened to hear cases as they arise and consists of a Chairman and two Members: the Chairman (and Deputy Chairmen) are senior members of the judiciary.

49. The Panel is available to hear appeals from individuals in government departments and other organisations, or those employed by contractors of those departments and organisations, who have exhausted the internal appeals process and who remain dissatisfied with the outcome. It is not available to candidates for recruitment. (Staff, contractors and recruits to the Security and Intelligence Agencies have separate arrangements via the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.) Those wishing to take their case to the Panel must register their intention to appeal with the Secretariat, in writing, and within 28 days of receiving the final notification of the rejection of an internal appeal.

50. The Panel will ask for a statement from the appellant and the organisation and a hearing will be arranged. The appellant may be accompanied by a “friend” who can help them present their case. Where the decision turns on sensitive information that cannot be shared with the appellant, the panel may in exceptional circumstances offer the appellant the opportunity to request the appointment of a special advocate if they assess that to be necessary in the interests of natural justice.

51. The Panel will confine itself to reviewing the decision to refuse or withdraw security clearance and the processes involved. It will make recommendations to the Head of the Department or organisation concerned in the light of its findings. It can recommend that the decision to refuse or withdraw security clearance should stand, or that the security clearance should be given or restored. It may also comment on the vetting procedures and the adequacy of the internal appeals process and make recommendations. The Panel will not become involved in examining any subsequent action

OTHER REVIEW AND APPEAL MECHANISMS

DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

52. If an individual (whether an existing employee or an applicant for employment) believes that they have been unlawfully discriminated against, they may take action in the relevant statutory tribunal. Employment Tribunals in England and Wales and in Scotland, and Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals in Northern Ireland, can hear complaints of unlawful discrimination on grounds including gender, race, disability, religion, age and sexual orientation. (In Northern Ireland, Fair Employment Tribunals can also hear complaints of unlawful discrimination on grounds of political opinion). Where complaints are made of unlawful discrimination in relation to national security vetting decisions, the fullest possible disclosure, consistent with the protection of national security, will be made to enable the substance of the complaint to be dealt with appropriately.

DATA PROTECTION

53. If an individual considers that personal data used in the vetting process is incorrect, or has been incorrectly handled, s/he may complain to the Information Commissioner pursuant to the Data Protection Act 1998. . An individual also has the right to apply to a court for an order that inaccurate personal data about the individual be rectified, blocked, erased or destroyed. The use of personal data for the purposes of national security vetting decisions is excluded from the reach of those statutory provisions in so far as such an exclusion is necessary for the protection of national security.

INVESTIGATORY POWERS TRIBUNAL

54. Separate arrangements exist for applicants to, employees and contractors of the security and intelligence agencies (the Security Service, SIS and GCHQ) who may complain to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The Tribunal, which is an independent body chaired by a senior judge and whose members are senior lawyers, will examine the case carefully, and has the right to examine any intelligence material. If it upholds a complaint, the Tribunal will order appropriate action to remedy the situation.

JUDICIAL REVIEW

55. The mechanisms described above are separate from an individual‟s right (available to both applicants for work and existing workers) to seek a Judicial Review of their case when other remedies have been exhausted. The Court in a Judicial Review will consider whether or not the original decision making process was properly conducted; whether the conclusion it reached was a reasonable one, in all the circumstances; and whether proper and sufficient reasons have been given. Although the Court cannot replace the original decision with one of its own, it can quash the decision, and send the case back for reconsideration if it finds that either the process used to make the decision was faulty, or that the decision itself was unreasonable in the circumstances. A Judicial Review will take place if the High Court accepts that it has jurisdiction to hear the case. This should not (usually) happen unless all other avenues of appeal have been exhausted.

STATEMENT OF HMG PERSONNEL SECURITY AND NATIONAL SECURITY VETTING POLICY

Minimum Personnel Security Controls

1. It is HM Government‟s policy that all areas of government and the national infrastructure should include in their recruitment processes certain basic checks. These checks include verification of the applicant‟s identity, employment history, their right to work in the UK and, if appropriate, checks of any unspent criminal records. Within government these controls are described in the Baseline Personnel Security Standard. In addition the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) produces a range of relevant guidance on personnel security and makes similar advice available to the wider national infrastructure.

National Security Vetting

2. National security vetting comprises a range of additional checks and may be applied where a risk assessment indicates it is proportionate to do so. The risk assessment process takes account of the access an individual may have to sensitive assets (physical, personnel or information) at risk from a wide range of threats. These threats include: terrorism, espionage, or other actions that could threaten the United Kingdom. The requirements of international agreements concerning the protection of allies‟ information may also inform such assessments.

3. It is government policy that individuals should not be expected to hold an existing security clearance in order to apply for posts that require vetting, except where such posts are short term and need to be filled urgently.

4. There are three different types of national security vetting clearance: Counter Terrorist Check (CTC), Security Check (SC) and Developed Vetting (DV). Before any such clearance is undertaken the requirements of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard must be met. Whilst the information required and the range and depth of checks undertaken at each level may vary, they are all intended to allow Government departments and agencies, the Armed Forces and police forces to assess whether individuals who are to be employed in sensitive posts or critical functions might represent a security risk either directly or indirectly.

Checks

5. Individuals subject to national security vetting (including UK nationals taking up sensitive posts in international organisations) will be asked to provide via a questionnaire personal information about themselves, partners, family members and other associates. It may be checked, and retained for future checks, against:

  • Relevant personnel records held by the employing department or company
  • Criminal records (both spent and unspent as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act))
  • Information held by the Security Service.
  • Credit reference agency records

6. The process may also take account of:

  • Financial circumstances generally
  • Third party character references
  • Any medical considerations that could give rise to security concerns

7. Interviews with the vetting subject and referees may be carried out to establish good character and to verify information that has been provided.

Decision Making

8. National security vetting decisions may only be taken by Government departments, agencies, the Armed Forces or police forces. All the available information is taken into account to reach a reasoned decision on an individual’s suitability to hold a security clearance.

9. Security clearances may be refused or withdrawn where:

  • There are security concerns related to an individual‟s involvement or connection with activities, organisations or individuals associated with the threats described in this Statement (or any similar new threats that emerge);
  • Personal circumstances, current or past conduct indicate that an individual may be susceptible to pressure or improper influence;
  • Instances of dishonesty or lack of integrity cast doubt upon an individual‟s reliability;
  • Other behaviours or circumstances indicate unreliability.

10. Wherever possible existing employees will have an opportunity to discuss, comment on and challenge any adverse information that arises. However in certain circumstances it may not be possible to share such information as this could compromise national security, the public interest or third party confidentiality.

Avenues of Appeal

11. Existing employees who are subject to national security vetting and either refused a security clearance or whose clearance is withdrawn may appeal against such decisions. All departments and agencies that carry out national security vetting must provide for an internal appeal process. Where individuals remain dissatisfied they may appeal to the Security Vetting Appeals Panel, an independent body.

12. The Panel will consider the case, review the information and invite the appellant and the organisation to make representations. The Panel will make recommendations to the Head of Department or organisation in the light of its findings as to whether the decision should stand or be reviewed. The Panel may also comment on the security vetting procedures and adequacy of the internal appeal arrangements.

13. There are no national security vetting appeal routes for applicants for employment who are refused a security clearance. Separate arrangements exist for applicants to, employees and contractors of the security and intelligence agencies, who may complain to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Any individual may apply to an Employment Tribunal if they feel that they have been discriminated against in any part of the recruitment process.

Ongoing Personnel Security Management

14. The national security vetting process provides an assessment of the vetting subject at the time the process is carried out, but active, ongoing personnel security management is required to ensure that a security clearance maintains its currency. As a minimum this will involve active consideration of the vetting subject‟s continuing conduct in respect of security matters; it will also require checks to be repeated at regular intervals.

HMG PERSONNEL SECURITY CONTROLS

Type of control and who needs itWhat it involvesAdditional comments
Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)

Individuals with any access to government assets. This means all civil servants, members of the armed forces, temporary staff in departments, and government contractors generally.

  • Allow access to UK OFFICIAL assets and occasional access to UK SECRET assets
  • Required to work in areas where SECRET and TOP SECRET information may be overheard
  • Individuals who require access to Public Services Network (PSN)
Verification of:

  • Identity.
  • Employment history (past 3 years).
  • National and immigration (right to work) status.
  • Unspent criminal record.

Additionally, individuals are required to give a reasonable account of any significant periods (a total of 6 months or more in the past 3 years) of time spent abroad.

The BPSS is the recognised standard for the pre-employment screening of individuals with access to government assets. It is not a formal security clearance but its rigorous and consistent application underpins the national security vetting process at CTC, SC and DV.

Above and beyond the BPSS, some organisations may seek references and include other enquiries (e.g. health) as part of their recruitment process.

Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)

Individuals who are to be employed in posts which:

  • Involve proximity to public figures assessed to be at particular risk from terrorist attack.
  • Give access to information or material assessed to be of value to terrorists.
  • Involve unescorted access to certain military, civil, industrial or commercial establishments assessed to be at particular risk from terrorist attack.
  • Successful completion of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard.
  • Completion, by the individual, of a Security Questionnaire.
  • A departmental/company records check which might include e.g. personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records.
  • A check of both spent and unspent criminal records.
  • A check of Security Service (MI5) records.

If there are any unresolved security concerns about the individual or if recommended by the Security Service, the individual may also be interviewed.

Checks may extend to third parties included on the security questionnaire.

A CTC clearance must be formally reviewed after 10 years (5 years for non-List X contractors) or at any time up to that point at the discretion of the vetting authority.

Security Check (SC)

Individuals who are to be employed in posts which:

  • Require them to have long-term, frequent and uncontrolled access to SECRET assets and/or occasional, supervised access to TOP SECRET assets.

And for individuals who:

  • While not in such posts, will be in a position to directly or indirectly bring about the same degree of damage.
  • Will have sufficient knowledge to obtain a comprehensive picture of a SECRET plan, policy or project.
  • Are being considered for employment where it would not be possible to make reasonable career progress without security clearance for access to SECRET assets.
  • Require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country or international organisation.
  • Successful completion of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard.
  • Completion, by the individual, of a Security Questionnaire.
  • A departmental/company records check which will include e.g. personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records.
  • A check of both spent and unspent criminal records.
  • A check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency.
  • A check of Security Service (MI5) records.

Exceptionally, if there are any unresolved security concerns about the individual, or if recommended by the Security Service, the individual may also be interviewed.

In the event of any unresolved financial concerns, the individual may also be required to complete a separate Financial Questionnaire so that a full review of personal finances can be carried out.

Checks may extend to third parties included on the security questionnaire.

An SC security clearance must be formally reviewed after 10 years (7 years for non-List X contractors) or at any time up to that point at the discretion of the vetting authority.

Developed Vetting (DV)

Individuals who are to be employed in posts which:

  • Require them to have frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET assets or require any access to TOP SECRET codeword material.

And for individuals who:

  • While not in such posts, will be in a position to directly or indirectly bring about the same degree of damage.
  • Require frequent and uncontrolled access to Category I nuclear material.
  • Require access to certain levels of classified material originating from another country or international organisation.
  • Successful completion of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard.
  • Completion, by the individual, of a Security Questionnaire, a DV Supplement and Financial Questionnaire.
  • A departmental/company records check which will include personal files, staff reports, sick leave returns and security records.
  • A check of both spent and unspent criminal records.
  • A check of credit and financial history with a credit reference agency.
  • A check of Security Service (MI5) records
  • A full review of personal finances.
  • A detailed interview conducted by a trained Investigating Officer.
  • Further enquiries, including interviews with referees conducted by a trained Investigating Officer.

 

Checks may extend to third parties included on the security questionnaire.

The full review of personal finances will include an assessment of an individual‟s assets, liabilities, income and expenditure both on an individual basis and taking into account the joint position with a spouse or partner.

A DV security clearance must be reviewed every 7 years (7 years for non-List X contractors) or at any time up to those points at the discretion of the vetting authority.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is the purpose of personnel security controls?

The purpose of personnel security controls is to ensure that a person‟s character and personal circumstances are such that they can be trusted to work in a position which may involve access to sensitive assets.

What threats do personnel security controls protect against?

Personnel security controls, together with other protective security measures, help to counter the threats to national security which may stem from:

  • Foreign intelligence services.
  • Terrorist groups.
  • Those who wish to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.
  • Individuals
    • who may be susceptible to pressure or improper influence; or
    • who have shown dishonesty or lack of integrity which throws doubt upon their reliability; or
    • who have demonstrated behaviour or are subject to circumstances which may otherwise indicate unreliability.
What are the personnel security controls?

The Government uses four levels of personnel security controls depending on the level of assurance required:

  • Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)
  • Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)
  • Security Check (SC)
  • Developed Vetting (DV)

BPSS involves carrying out a limited number of enquiries (such as checking identity documents and employment/education references) to confirm the applicant‟s identity. The requirements of the BPSS should be met before national security vetting is undertaken.

CTC involves an additional check against UK criminal and security records. Such clearance is required for access to certain establishments or public figures where there is a specific threat from terrorism. It is not designed to manage access to sensitive information. The process for CTC clearance includes:

  • BPSS clearance;
  • completion of a security clearance questionnaire by the candidate;
  • checks against UK criminal and security records;
  • it may also include an interview.

SC is the most widely held level of security clearance. It is required for jobs involving regular and uncontrolled access to sensitive information which is classified as „SECRET‟, and some posts in international organisations. The process for SC clearance includes:

  • CTC clearance;
  • a credit reference check;
  • if considered necessary, checks against the criminal and security records of relevant foreign countries.
  • it may also include an interview.

DV is the most detailed and comprehensive form of security clearance. It is required for sensitive jobs and tasks which involve long-term, frequent or uncontrolled access to „TOP SECRET‟ material, or certain posts in international organisations. The process for DV clearance includes:

  • SC clearance;
  • completion by the applicant of a DV supplementary questionnaire;
  • completion by the applicant of a financial questionnaire;
  • a review of the applicant‟s personal finances;
  • interviews with an applicant‟s referees conducted by a vetting officer;
  • a detailed interview with an applicant conducted by a vetting officer.
Who is subject to the controls?

Personnel security controls may be applied to those in the following categories whose employment involves access to sensitive (not necessarily classified) government information or other valuable assets:

  • Crown servants, including
    • civil servants;
    • members of the security and intelligence agencies;
    • members of the armed forces; and
    • the police.
  • Employees of certain other non-government organisations which are obliged to comply with the Government‟s security procedures.
  • Employees of contractors providing goods and services to the Government
Who decides whether security clearance is needed?

The Cabinet Office sets the policy framework for the application of national security vetting. However, the level of clearance needed for a particular post will be decided by the department/organisation and will depend on the particular role and responsibilities of the post. If the role or responsibilities subsequently change, such that a post-holder is to have greater access to sensitive information, then suitability for the new role and responsibilities will be reassessed and clearance at a higher level may be required.

National security vetting may be carried out on recruitment or at any point subsequently when changes in duties or responsibilities require it.

Departments have discretion to determine their own processes. Many use a separate vetting authority to run the process for them. This may mean that where the applicant has previously been cleared by another department, the recruiting department may wish to review that clearance.

Why do I need security clearance?

If you have been told that you will be subject to CTC, SC or DV security clearance, it is because the post you have applied for is assessed to require it because of a security risk and the damage that could arise as a result of any compromise. If you consider, either now or in the future, that your post does not require a security clearance, you should discuss this with your line manager or superior, in the first instance, or with your Departmental Security Officer.

Isn’t national security vetting intrusive?

The checks can be intrusive, particularly at the higher levels of national security vetting. However, checks are only carried out to the level necessary to safeguard national security. You are not obliged to go through the security vetting process but, if you choose not to, you will not then be appointed to the post you applied for.

What about equal opportunities and human rights?

All applicants for vetting are treated impartially and consistently, irrespective of gender, race, disability, religion, age or sexual orientation or other protected characteristics in accordance with the requirements of the Equalities Act 2010 and/or the equivalent legislation applicable in Northern Ireland.

The European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act guarantee certain rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression. These rights are subject to a number of exceptions; in particular they may be subjected to such interference as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security.

Why are there so many questions – are they really necessary?

The questionnaires may initially look daunting, but most questions are straightforward. You should read through the questions to find out what is required, collect together the necessary information and allow plenty of time for completion. You must answer all questions – if you do not do so it may delay the decision about your clearance. If you are unsure about a question please ask for guidance from whoever issued you with the questionnaire(s).

If you realise after you have submitted the questionnaire(s) that you have inadvertently made a mistake or omitted something, please tell your vetting authority or whoever you returned the questionnaire(s) to. If you do not do so any errors or omissions could be held against you during the assessment process.

Please make certain that you have signed the questionnaire(s) in the appropriate places. This will avoid unnecessary delays in processing your application.

I used to be politically active and I think that the Security Service may hold a record on me. Will it affect my security clearance?

The Security Service only holds records on individuals so far as is necessary and proportionate for national security purposes. It does not hold records on people just because they are politically active.

Where information about you is held by the Security Service this does not rule out granting a clearance. The Service will advise the sponsoring department of the relevance and significance of the information it holds.

Will my clearance be refused if I have a criminal record?

Each case will be judged on its merits and will take into account a number of things e.g. the seriousness of the offence; the length of time since it was committed; your age at the time; and any other special circumstances. It is important that you are completely honest about your criminal history, including spent convictions (that is, older convictions that would not normally have to be disclosed to a potential employer) and police cautions. Any attempt to conceal information could be taken as evidence of unreliability or dishonesty and may affect the granting of security clearance.

Do I have to have lived in the UK for a set period of time?

To enable meaningful checks to be carried out you will normally need to have lived in the UK for a sufficient period of time. Depending on the level of clearance being carried out this may range from three to ten years. Whilst a lack of UK residency in itself is not necessarily a bar to a security clearance, decision makers will need to consider what checks can be carried out and the information available upon which to make a decision.

I’m tempted to keep quiet about something in my past and hope no-one finds out

Lying or concealing information on a security questionnaire or at interview is viewed very seriously because it is taken as evidence of unreliability and/or dishonesty. Indeed, your security clearance could be refused because you lied, even though what you were seeking to conceal would not in itself have caused a problem. Furthermore, your security clearance could be removed at a later date if the lie subsequently came to light.

Will the information obtained during the vetting process remain confidential?

All information obtained will be treated in strict confidence and protected from unauthorised access.

What about the Data Protection Act 1998?

The Act requires those who process personal data to register that fact with the Information Commissioner, together with other information, including a description of the data, the categories of person to which it relates, the purpose for which the data is processed and the persons to whom it may be disclosed. Section 28 of the Act provides for exemptions where this is necessary for the purpose of safeguarding national security.

Who decides whether a security clearance will be granted?

The employing or contracting department will make the final decision in the light of all the available information obtained during the vetting process.

Will I be told whether a security clearance has been granted?

If you are an existing member of staff applying for security clearance, you will be informed of the result of the vetting process. If a clearance has been denied, you will be given the reasons unless considerations of national security and maintaining the confidential nature of information provided preclude this. If you are an unsuccessful applicant for employment you will not necessarily be informed of the reason your application was unsuccessful.

What happens after I have been given a security clearance?

Your security clearance will be subject to regular review. It is important that you maintain the standards of security expected and notify any changes in your personal circumstances (e.g. marriage, change of partner, criminal convictions, etc.) to your vetting authority. Your security clearance will normally lapse once you have completed the work for which the clearance was granted.

Can I appeal against an adverse vetting decision?

If you are a current employee, your employing department (or vetting authority) will have an internal appeal mechanism in place. If, after appealing internally, you remain dissatisfied with the decision you can appeal to the independent Security Vetting Appeals Panel whose details will be made available to you at the time of your internal appeal.

Separate arrangements exist for applicants for employment in and staff and contractors of the security and intelligence agencies. If you are in this category, please ask your contact at the relevant agency for more information.

The following questions apply to applicants for SC and/or DV only.

What will I be asked if I am interviewed?

If you are a current employee, your employing department (or vetting authority) will have an internal appeal mechanism in place. If, after appealing internally, you remain dissatisfied with the decision you can appeal to the independent Security Vetting Appeals Panel whose details will be made available to you at the time of your internal appeal.

Separate arrangements exist for applicants for employment in and staff and contractors of the security and intelligence agencies. If you are in this category, please ask your contact at the relevant agency for more information.

What will I be asked if I am interviewed?

Interviews are carried out routinely at DV and occasionally at CTC or SC level. The interview, which will be conducted by a vetting officer, will be wide-ranging and cover most aspects of your life. The aim is to obtain a rounded picture of you as an individual to determine whether you will be able to cope with access to sensitive material at the highest levels.

In addition to assessing whether you may present a security risk the aim is to protect you from situations which could potentially present you with a conflict of interest or any other difficulty.

You should expect to be asked about your family background, past experiences, health, sex life, drinking habits, experience (if any) of drug taking, financial affairs, general political views (though not what party you support), hobbies, foreign travel and connections. All these questions are asked for a purpose and you must be as frank as possible.

If you would feel more comfortable discussing certain matters with a different vetting officer you should say so and efforts will be made to arrange a second interview. Be candid: it is in your interest that full and accurate information is provided and the correct decision is reached.

Why should I provide confidential medical information?

This is only required at DV level. The DV Supplement Questionnaire explains how medical information will be obtained and safeguarded. Your vetting authority requires the name and address of your doctor, whom they may contact, and needs to know whether you have suffered from certain medical or psychological conditions which could have a bearing on your fitness to handle very sensitive information.

Who should I name as referees and what will they be asked?

This is only required at DV level. You should name people who know you well and who between them have known you for a significant period of your life. They will be asked to describe you and your way of life, attitudes, and abilities in order to provide a rounded picture of you as an individual. The vetting officer will be trying to verify and complete the information provided by you.

What is the purpose of a financial check and what does it entail?

Financial checks are carried out at DV and occasionally at SC level. A check will be made with a credit reference agency and you may be asked to complete a Financial Questionnaire so that a full review of your personal finances can be carried out. This will include assets, liabilities, income and expenditure owned both individually and jointly with a spouse or partner. Its purpose is to assess whether you are or have been in serious financial difficulty or show signs of financial irresponsibility to the extent that you could become vulnerable to financial inducement. There is no need to worry about a mortgage or credit card or other similar liability (e.g. a student loan) where it is in line with your ability to manage the repayments.