What Is Security Clearance? Types and Requirements for UK Jobs

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A security clearance is a requirement for many UK jobs. Here’s a guide to the different types and how to get clearance.

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A security clearance is required for individuals hired for UK government jobs or any organisation that handles information pertaining to national security. It requires a series of background checks. The security clearance process ensures your ability to access, manage, and protect classified information securely.

While a security clearance is required for many government and cybersecurity roles worldwide, this article focuses on national security clearance in the UK. It examines the process of obtaining a security clearance, the different types of security clearances that exist, and the jobs that may require them.

What is a security clearance?

A security clearance is a tiered status. It is typically granted to government agency employees and private contractors who work with the government. This comprehensive process checks your identity, national immigration status, employment history, criminal record, and time spent abroad, among other things, depending on the clearance type you seek. Security clearance must be issued before you can begin working. Varying levels of additional security checks are required for anyone working with top-secret government assets. Job categories range from contractors to cabinet-level positions.  

Levels of security clearance

UK security clearances are based on either specific job duties or the maximum security you need. For instance, not all levels of classified information will be accessible to you depending on the clearance you obtain. Take a look at the levels of security clearance in the UK [1]: 

  • Baseline Personal Security Standard (BPSS):  This is technically not a security clearance but a pre-employment screening. It provides access to information that can cause damage to national security if it is disclosed without authorisation. It’s required for various workers, from civil servants to members of the armed services.

  • Accreditation Check (AC):  This clearance is specific to employees who work in aviation, from air cargo employees to airline pilots. At this level, your employment and education gaps are checked for five years, and records are checked against those of other UK agencies. 

  • Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)/Level 1B: This is for those working in close proximity to public officials or being allowed unescorted in areas where government documents are held. In addition to the Baseline Personnel Security Standard check, you’ll do extra screening, such as filling out a Security Questionnaire and checking your Security Service records. 

  • Security Check (SC): This is for those with access to top secret information or information that could cause an equal amount of damage, whether the information is from the UK or another country or organisation. At this level, third-party individuals may also be checked. Financial questionnaires as recorded.

  • Enhanced Security Check (eSC): This is for local and overseas posts with secret codes to access information. The additional check is a deeper review, from finances to assets and liabilities.

  • Developed Vetting (DV): This is the highest level of security clearance, which involves ten extra steps beyond the Baseline level, including a full review of personal finances. It’s required for individuals with access to Top Secret information or other information that could hurt national security just as much if leaked.

  • Enhanced Developed Vetting (eDV):  This is a very high level of security for a small number of posts with cabinet office approval. At this level, spouse and partner finances are also reviewed in addition to a supervisor interview.

Jobs that require security clearance

Anyone who works in a job that requires access to national security information requires clearance. This includes people in government and military jobs, from executive-level roles to non-sensitive positions in custodial staff. These roles may include librarians, IT system administrators, and more. Clearance levels must be at or higher than the level of information you will handle. They also vary according to your position, responsibilities, and the systems you use in your role.

In addition to government agencies, those working for private organisations with government contracts require a security clearance. Employees of companies, non-profit organisations, think tanks, and research organisations with federal contracts or grants may need to undergo this background investigation.

How to obtain a security clearance

For any government-related jobs that require access to classified data, successful applicants will receive a job offer contingent on obtaining a national security clearance. The main steps for the security clearance process are:

1. Application

Your human resources or personnel officer has to sponsor you to be eligible to apply. The sponsor ensures you’ve passed the baseline check and will submit your application for the level of clearance you’ll need [2]. Once you’re given access if required, you’ll complete the security questionnaire on the National Security Vetting Solution (NSVS) portal. You may be required to interview for higher levels of security. 

2. Investigation

You will undergo a comprehensive background investigation to determine eligibility for access. This process may involve reviewing financial, criminal, and medical records. The depth of investigation will depend on the level of security clearance needed. This process may extend over a long period of time. 

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Article sources


Gov.UK. “National security vetting: Clearance levels, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/united-kingdom-security-vetting-clearance-levels/national-security-vetting-clearance-levels.” Accessed April 28, 2023.

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