Although background screening or pre-employment checking are commonly used terms in private sector companies, governments and security jobs will often use the term vetting instead. In October 2020 the UK government issued new guidance, designed to let both applicants and recruiters within government know a bit more about the security vetting process.
Security vetting is all about minimising risks in government roles where security concerns have to be taken into consideration. This could mean a role which involves going into a high-risk site such as a power station or airport, a role which has access to classified documents or IT systems. The aim of vetting is to reassure employers that they can trust the people they are working with. Vetting in these situations is not something which is done once at the point of recruitment and then forgotten; departments will have an ongoing process of vetting on a regular basis for as long as someone holds a role which involves needing security clearance.
Vetting is so important to the UK government that there is a special body set up to manage security vetting within government departments. This body is called United Kingdom Security Vetting (UKSV) and is part of the Cabinet Office. There is lots of information online about the structure of the organisation and how they operate should you be interested in finding out more.
What Will They Ask For?
UKSV will ask applicants to complete a form giving basic personal details such as name, address, and date of birth, along with more information about your parents and siblings, an employment history, and address history. They will also ask about criminal convictions, similar to a DBS check in other situations. If your job involves a higher level of security clearance, they might also ask about your financial situation, and look more deeply into links with political or pressure groups which people may have links to.
Why Do They Need to Know All This?
The aim of the screening process is to minimise risk and maintain national security. When UKSV are undertaking the screening, they are not judging choices you may have made in the past or are looking for the right or wrong answers. However, in particular they are trying to get to the bottom of the following issues:
- Overseas residence – not necessarily a concern but could be if you have spent extended periods in countries which the UK has poor relations with.
- Spending – are you living beyond your means which could mean you make rash decisions to fund your lifestyle?
- Blackmail – without judgement, the UKSV wants to understand whether there is anything in your private life which could lead to you being blackmailed.
- Associations – even though you may not be considered any security risk yourself, are there any questionable characters among your friends and family who might influence you?
The UKSV also guarantees that the questions they ask will be relevant and reasonable given the position under consideration and will inform applicants in advance about the process.