SJUK Masthead Black

What is National Security Vetting?

October 7, 2023

In certain situations, you need to be checked to be given clearance to gain access to sensitive or confidential information.

If this is the case, you will normally go through what is called a vetting process.

In terms of the UK, that process is referred to as National Security Vetting.

National security vetting is carried out to ensure that a person’s character and personal situation are reliable and trustworthy.

But what is it and what does it entail?

We shall be exploring this in more detail in the following chapters.

What is Security Vetting?

Security vetting is a process which comprises a series of background checks to establish whether one can be granted access to sensitive data, assets and equipment.

Hence, if your role requires such access you will need to hold a valid security clearance.

The United Kingdom Security Vetting (UKSV) is the main provider of security clearances in the UK.

What Levels of National Security Clearance Are There?

There are 5 levels of national security clearance:

  • Accreditation Check (AC)
  • Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)
  • Level 1B
  • Security Check (SC)
  • Developed Vetting (DV)

What’s in the New Vetting Charter?

UK Cabinet Office
UK Cabinet Office Headquarters in London. Image credit: Miguel Discart

A new vetting charter has been published by the Cabinet Office.

This charter delineates what to expect from the vetting process.

It also includes details about the responsibilities of the applicants and clearance holders.

The new vetting charter places a lot of importance on the need to ensure that the vetting process is as transparent as possible.

The Cabinet Office seeks to support all those who need to be vetted and hold a security clearance.

This new vetting charter was written carefully by taking into account that there are numerous candidates coming from diverse backgrounds who often tend to rule themselves out of certain roles simply because they know that they would require security clearance.

Many are often concerned about the vetting process.

Hence the main aim of this new vetting charter was to make sure that such candidates get the necessary reassurance by being treated with respect and dignity, while ensuring that the whole process is as transparent and balanced as possible.

Why is National Security Vetting Necessary?

National security vetting is conducted to ensure that the character and personal circumstances of the individual are to be sufficiently trusted to have access or deal with sensitive information and assets.

This is important to safeguard national security.

How Does National Security Vetting Work?

National Security Vetting Interview
Interviews are usually conducted to check suitability. Image credit: Pexels

Firstly you will need a sponsor.

This is generally the HR or personnel officer, or the company security controller.

In the case of civil servants or if you serve in the HM Forces, the sponsor will be assigned once it has been established that you require clearance to be able to carry out your role.

In the case of a contractor you will not be sponsored unless the company that employs you is contracted, or is in the process of being contracted, to carry out work on specified classified project/s.

The sponsor will need to confirm that your role is one which requires security clearance.

The sponsor will also need to confirm that the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) has been carried out.

Once such checks have been carried out, the sponsor will then prepare your clearance application.

You will receive a link to complete a security questionnaire.

Once you have submitted this security questionnaire, there will be an evaluation process whereby the information submitted will be cross checked against crime and security databases, as well as credit reference agencies, and with your supervisors and referees.

Sometimes the applicant will be contacted to provide additional information or details.

It’s important to point out that being security cleared is not a guarantee that you will achieve security clearance forever.

Indeed, all security clearances are kept under review.

Such reviews are carried out by the various government departments and sponsored contractors.

The sponsor will thus be responsible for your security clearance, and when you no longer require such clearance, such as if you leave your role, the sponsor will need to inform the UKSV.

Sometimes applicants who are going through CTC, Level 1B or SC level vetting will be asked to attend an interview, although it will be less broad and generally cover just a specific area of your life.

The interview is always carried out if you apply for eSC, DV or eDV and it will be a full interview which covers more aspects and themes.

A vetting officer will contact the applicant directly to arrange the date and time of the interview. 

Most interviews are carried out virtually or face to face in a Cabinet Office location that is most convenient for the applicant.

Interviews generally last around three hours as they will cover practically all aspects of the applicant’s life.

The main reason is that the vetting officer will need to establish a complete picture of the applicant to make a well informed assessment of whether one is able to cope with being granted access to sensitive information or assets.

Hence your level of loyalty and reliability will need to be ascertained.

Who Does This Affect & Who Needs It?

National security vetting is required for individuals who work for the government or for an industry partner where access to sensitive assets, equipment or information is required.

This includes civil servants, crown servants, the police, members of the armed forces, and of security and intelligence agencies.

Sometimes employees of certain non-government organisations (NGO’s) who are required to comply with the Government’s security procedures, and employees of contractors who provide goods and services to the Government will also need to undergo such checks.

What is the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS)?

The BPSS is designed to provide a level of assurance about the person’s integrity and level of trustworthiness.

The BPSS is actually not a formal security clearance.

It includes verifying one’s identity and doing a nationality check.

A criminal record declaration is also included, along with taking up references.

The BPSS is a prerequisite to National Security Vetting and is needed for those who need to be granted access to confidential or secret assets. 

What’s a Counter Terrorism Check?

UK Driving Licence
Identity checks are just one part of the vetting process. Image credit: Pixabay

A Counter Terrorist Check or CTC is required in cases when one’s post:

  • Involves being in close proximity to public figures who may be at risk of terrorist attacks
  • Have access to information or material that could be of value to terrorists
  • Includes unescorted access to certain establishments which are considered to be susceptible to terrorist attacks such as civil or military establishments.

A CTC includes verifying one’s identity, checking against departmental records as well as criminal and security records.

The security questionnaire will also need to be completed.

At times a detailed interview with an investigating officer will also be carried out as part of this check.

What’s a Security Check?

A Security Check is carried out if the post requires the applicant to have substantial access to secret assets, or occasionally even to top secret assets.

Hence a higher level of clearance will need to be granted.

The Parliamentary Security Department will advise whether this clearance is required for the relevant post.  

What’s Developed Vetting (DV)?

Developed Vetting is the most wide-ranging and all-inclusive form of security vetting.

It is needed if one’s post requires access to top secret assets.

A DV is required for instance if one works with security and intelligence agencies, and even for some posts at the Houses of Parliament.

Is National Security Vetting Discriminatory?

Great care is taken to ensure that national security vetting is fair or non-discriminatory.

All applicants are treated impartially, regardless of their gender, marital status, age, colour, ethnicity or religious affiliation. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does National Security Vetting Take?

Security vetting takes some time to be completed. This is because a series of checks will need to be carried out.

Some of these are provided by external parties. These third party checks often lead to some delays. 

Typically national security vetting takes between 6 and 18 weeks for most checks.

But, in some cases it can even take up to a year due to an extensive backlog of applications.

It’s important to provide accurate and complete information to ensure that the clearance process can be carried out as efficiently as possible.

What Does National Security Vetting Look For?

The vetting process will focus on establishing a clear picture of the applicant.

His or her level of trustworthiness, honesty and integrity is of the essence to decide whether one is to be considered as being sufficiently reliable to being granted access to sensitive data and assets.

The vetting process will place special importance on checking that the individual is not susceptible to any pressures or improper influences, and that there have been no cases when he or she demonstrated behaviour that indicates unreliability.

Will Being Politically Active Affect My Application?

Not necessarily.

The Security Service will likely have a record of individuals whose political activism involved being affiliated with organisations that advocate to overthrow Parliamentary democracy by means of political or violent means.

Will a Criminal Record Affect My Application?

Every case will need to be carefully evaluated on its respective merits.

The seriousness of the offense, when it was committed, and the individual’s age at that time will be taken into consideration.

It’s important to be honest and never attempt to conceal any information.

Must I Be British to Get National Security Cleared?

No, you do not need to be British to get national security clearance.

However, you will need to have lived in the UK for a certain amount of time (a minimum of 3 years out of the past 5 years).

This is important so that meaningful checks can be carried out for proper evaluation. 


National security vetting is not a judgement of one’s lifestyle or background.

It’s a thorough process aimed to identify whether one is to be granted access to clearance so as to make sure that there are no risks involved in granting such clearance.

After all, we are talking about sensitive information and assets, hence extreme caution must be exercised.

Read Next

Security Journal UK

Subscribe Now

£99.99 for each year
No payment items has been selected yet