Fretting about vetting

Thoughts from Myra – Jan 31st 2024

I’ve just completed an additional security clearance application for HMPPS, in order to deliver our Employability programme in probation services as well as in prisons – for which I’m cleared.  I expected a high level of personal scrutiny but what was more unexpected was how I felt both during and after submitting the application.   

Even as a white, middle-class, older woman with no convictions, I felt intimidated by the forensic questions and uncomfortable, miserable even, having to reveal and delve into past relationships, employment and other areas of my life that are, generally speaking, considered private. 

I know that there are those who may consider my position naive or even foolish but somehow, even knowing what I know about the ‘system’, I found myself anxious about the consequences of not answering a question fully or accurately.  Added to that was the time pressure – if I stepped away from the application for more than 45 minutes there was a chance that anything I had entered would be lost – so I had to plough on regardless of how it was making me feel and how that was clouding my head.  (I think that you are able to extend the limit but I that option didn’t appear until after I had submitted and 45 minutes had passed.  I wouldn’t rely on it!) 

So I found myself thinking about how it must feel to be in a position where you want to move on with your life after prison or other encounters with the CJS in a meaningful way and be faced with this; having to reveal/revisit so much of your past yet again and in such a way.   

At DWRM, we are always keen to employ those with lived experience of prison and/or the CJS.  Many people that I have met are passionate to be able to ‘give back’ and want to work in those environments where they feel that they can have the most impact and bring the best value; prisons, probation services, schools, youth projects etc 

 Of course, I appreciate the management of risk and the scrutiny that needs to take place.  I could spend more time and energy ‘raging against the machine’ if I choose to and I can continue to push back where I can. 

 But for now, I just thought that it might be more helpful to drop some tips and hints here for those who are considering/want to work in areas where they will be subject to these types of checks. Thank you for wanting to do this work! 

 Ensure that you have to hand all of the information that you are going to need.  Don’t proceed with your application until you have either got these handy or have sorted out how to get them and done it. Otherwise, it just adds to the stress of it 

This is likely to include 

  • The usual details of NI number etc 
  • Dates and details of any name change/s 
  • Previous address/es for the last 5 years including prison and details of any time spent outside the UK 
  • ID and Right to Work documents. We’re talking passport, birth certificate, driving licence, citizen card etc– things that can prove that you are who you say that you are and live where you say that you live 
  • Details of any employment, going back 5 years. And/or details of all prison stays etc 
  • Details of a referee. You absolutely must sort this out before you start your application.  This is someone who:  can confirm your identity, is not related to you, is not in a personal relationship with you, has known you for more than 12 months, and has professional/personal credentials that can be checked and would have something to lose if they wrongly vouched for you. So e.g. anyone in a medical, religious, educational, legal, military, social care, public services types of professions. People who are directors of companies or pub licensees etc.  There’s quite a big list but it definitely needs to be sorted out beforehand 
  • Put aside at least an hour, if not two, in order to complete the form fully in one go and not get timed-out 
  • Arrange to do something afterwards, go for a walk or at least be able to chat to someone who ‘gets’ you 
  • Rinse and repeat if more questions come back 

 We’re far from operating in a perfect world but, if we hold each other up where we can, at least we can walk through it shoulder to shoulder where possible