IT recruiters defiant over security clearance

Recruiters are ignoring government guidelines by refusing to put IT contractors forward for defence jobs if they approach without holding valid security clearance.

The Defence Vetting Agency, which security checks staff, insisted yesterday that freelance contractors do not need security clearance just to be eligible for Ministry of Defence work.

But in an advert on a leading technology jobs site, an agency is instructing candidates they "must possess current valid security clearance to SC level or they will not be considered."

In response, the DVA said it was unfair for any jobs agency to 'discriminate' against applicants who engage them without a valid or high enough security pass for the role advertised.

"Not only are the recruiters limiting the pool of people eligible to apply," it said, "but they possibly leave themselves open to challenge from those who are prevented from applying."

Interestingly, the prospect of a legal challenge could only come from a candidate, as the DVA admitted it was toothless to bite down on such "unfair" marketplace practice.

"The issue of…advertising for new staff and requesting that they already hold a National Security Vetting (NSV) clearance before applying is an issue both ourselves and the Cabinet Office are aware of," said Jacky Ridley, its chief executive.

"The Cabinet Office have already considered the issue and have concluded that employers are not acting illegally by making such a request. As this is not illegal the DVA are powerless to stop the practice."

Fortunately for IT contractors, job boards can intervene: most well-administered sites now ask recruiters to reword their adverts if they seem to penalise uncleared applicants.

"In the past, we would say 'preference is for clearance', which is what the client would ask for, but the board [administrators] would change it to 'willing to undergo the vetting process.'

"Our policy is that we don't discriminate against people if they haven't got clearance," said Simon Shobrook, a public sector consultant at Hudson recruitment.

He explained that a contract offered on the condition that the candidate already has SC may suggest the client has logistical or practical concerns about the project.

"From a client's perspective, if you're an IT contractor applying to deliver a project that has a deadline and you haven't got clearance, they may have to wait three months until you get clearance."

"In reality, this often means the project deadline has passed and the client might as well as not have taken you on or even considered you in the first place."

Otherwise, an advert specifying the candidate must be security approved before application could indicate the client has, very recently, had trouble with the vetting of a candidate.

"Let's say a [defence] client chooses a certain IT contractor to be software development manager," Mr Shobrook said.

"They'll make an offer subject to clearance being approved. Eight weeks later it pops up in the DVA's checks that he had a minor conviction when he was 18 and as a result, the client can't place the worker on the secure site.

"All of a sudden, the client can find that their project [is] seriously exposed because they have to stop and go through the whole recruitment process again."

Despite this, Hudson said contractors yet to obtain security clearance should be treated no differently in terms of eligibility for work to contractors with security clearance.

Even when staff are sourced for a security-cleared environment against a tight deadline, all applicants, including those without SC, should be considered, as candidate availability is not set in stone.

Separately, the DVA has advised job applicants to challenge any employment agency that says only applicants who possess the necessary clearance for the role may apply.

If it appears the job advertised is with MoD or an MoD contractor, applicants should ask who the sponsor is, and approach the sponsor/security controller if they feel discriminated against.

MoD sponsors and defence industry security controllers have been instructed that any employment agency they use must not discriminate against uncleared applicants, the DVA said.

A source inside the agency voiced frustration that some IT recruiters are ignoring their recommendation that uncleared applicants should be eligible for sensitive roles: "this is an old problem which doesn't seem to go away."

"The DVA has no power to prevent this happening," the source said. "We are responsible for carrying out vetting but have no authority over… recruitment policy or which posts are deemed necessary for National Security Vetting clearance."

The DVA reminded that successful applicants will be put through the security clearance process by the MoD sponsor.

Sponsors can ask the DVA to process a clearance as priority where the need is short-term or urgent. In straightforward cases, this takes just a few days.

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