February 13th, 2015 | Sterling

What is BPSS and should you comply?

security screening standards

In the last 12 months we have experienced a significant increase of enquiries relating to security screening standards, especially the Baseline Personnel Security Standard (“BPSS”). More and more employers are now required to comply with one or more screening regulation so what exactly is the purpose of the Baseline Personnel Security Standard and is it something you should be cognizant of?

The UK Government introduced BPSS as a direct replacement for the Basic Check in 2006, mandating that this minimum level of recruitment check should be required for all persons with access to Government assets and being the pre-requisite to higher levels of National Security Checks: Security Check, Counter Terrorism Check and Developed Vetting.

BPSS is deemed by the Government to be a sensible and important precaution and a process to “confirm the identity of individuals (employees and contractors) and provide a level of assurance as to their trustworthiness, integrity and reliability’. The Civil Service is no different from all other UK employers, in that it must adhere to the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act of 2006, and so must verify nationality along with the right to work in the UK.

In an effort to achieve this assurance there are four key elements of the BPSS standard which must be verified – the mnemonic ‘RICE’ fits as a handy reminder:

1. Right to work – Verification of Nationality, ID documentation and Immigration status
2. Identity –ID Data check (electronic identity authentication – name, address, aliases, links, accounts etc.)
3. Criminal Records – Search for ‘unspent’ convictions (Basic Disclosure)
4. Employment check – Confirmation of 3 years (min.) Employment History / Activity

It must be stressed that BPSS has been widely adopted as a minimum standard for employers beyond the public sector, often as part of a policy which introduces more in-depth checks on a risk- and/or seniority- based approach.

One of the key triggers for the spike in demand for BPSS checks has been the introduction of requirements for users of PSN (Public Services Network) connected networks. The Public Services Network is the UK Government’s Wide Area Network (WAN) and is the successor to the Government Connect Secure Extranet (GCSx) and Government Secure Intranet (GSi). The Government has staged this requirement gradually over the last 3 years.

1. 2013 – all users of PSN services or data needed to be BPSS checked
2. 2014 – all users of PSN email had to be BPSS checked
3. 2015 – all users of PSN services, email or data must be BPSS checked

It is worth noting that another trend in background checks in recent years has been the requirement for third party contractors to be vetted to the same standard as their client’s own employees in order to be granted access to their sites, systems, or data. Pre-employment screening and staff vetting policies still tend to differ, even within regulated industries where background checks are mandated, which can cause problems for suppliers who work for multiple clients within the same sector.  Specifically this occurs when certain checks have been omitted, or completed to a different standard. For example, employment verifications: how many years need to be checked; should these be completed with or without gap verifications; and what period constitutes a ‘gap’? With the exception of just a couple of sectors this is largely determined by precedent and employer preference.

In an effort to avoid having to re-screen their workforce when engaging in work for new customers, we are finding that more and more employers have been engaging with specialist screening companies to devise background checks. Clients are looking to introduce screening policies which would be compliant with a wide range of different client requirements above and beyond those four key elements of the BPSS Standard. With this approach, only in the worst case scenario would ‘top-up’ screenings be required, ensuring the shortest lead times and minimal financial outlay when mobilising staff for new contracts.

That said, whilst for many years there has only been a gradual realisation for employers that pre-employment screening only provides an assessment of a person at that point in time, we have recently seen a sharp increase in the demand for services involving the ongoing vetting of existing staff in the private sector, at last mirroring what has for a long time been the case in the public sector and various regulated professions.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on:

• What the Baseline Personnel Security Standard actually is;
• Compliance with requirements for organisations with access to PSN connected services, data and/or email;
• The benefits of including BPSS requirements within your organisation’s own employment screening policy; and
• The importance of vetting existing staff, as well as pre-employment screening;

For further information about employee background screening best practices, download our exclusive report: Background Screening Trends & Best Practices Report.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.