• International Workplace
  • 7 July 2006

Workplace Law Magazine: Licence to…protect your workplace?

This feature article first appeared in issue 18 of Workplace Law Magazine (June 2006). More information on Workplace Law Magazine can be found at

Licence to…protect your workplace?

Due to a Security Industry Authority (SIA) backlog 30,000 security operators may currently be working illegally. Katy Brown interrogates Robert Buxton of the SIA to find out why there has been a backlog, and to clear up some of the confusion that still surrounds security licensing.

Over a month after the deadline for security licensing has passed, according to SIA figures, there are almost — not taking into account licences for CCTV and cash in transit — 30,000 security licences that are still being processed. This means that those 30,000 security operators are currently not allowed to work legally.

A system for the statutory regulation of the private security industry and the creation of the SIA was outlined in the Private Security Industry Act 2001.

The current sectors or activities that must be covered by a licence are: security guarding, door supervisors, vehicle immobilising, private investigation, security consultants and keyholders. For most of the sectors the only security operatives who need to be licensed are those who work under contract. The two exceptions to this are for those working as door supervisors or in the vehicle immobilising sector, where both employees working under contract and those who are in-house must hold a licence. There has been some debate as to whether all in-house security staff should hold licences, however as of yet nothing has been decided.

The following categories of people need licences:

  • Security contractors, directors of security companies and partners in security firms.
  • Employees of security contractors, security companies and security firms.
  • Agency workers performing these designated duties.
  • Persons who manage or supervise security operatives supplied under contract by a security contractor (but not in-house supervisors of contractors).
  • Agency-supplied managers or supervisors of security operatives supplied under contract.
  • Directors of security companies and partners in security firms who do not themselves carry out the designated activities.
  • In-house door supervisors and vehicle immobilisers and their employers, managers and supervisors.
  • Others who immobilize vehicles on private land against a release fee.

There are two different types of licence depending on the duties being carried out. Employees who actively carry out security activities should hold a front-line licence; staff such as managers and directors should hold a non front-line licence.

The front-line licence is a badge that must be worn where it can be seen when working; the non front-line licence is a letter, which must be kept and (if required) produced for inspection by authorised personnel.

If you have a non front-line Cash & Valuables in Transit licence you do not need to get another non front-line licence if you are involved in another area of licensable activity. For instance, if you are a director of a firm supplying Cash & Valuables in Transit drivers but you also supply door supervisors, you will not need to get a second non front-line licence.

Any SIA licence, whether front-line or non front-line, allows you to act as a key holder.

So, we know who should be licensed, but we don’t know why so many still aren’t. What do you do if your security operators are unable to work? And who will be liable if unlicensed operatives are used? These are just a few of the questions that are on the minds of Workplace Law members and the wider business community. We put these questions, and others, to Robert Buxton of the SIA to clear up the confusion that still surrounds the security licensing scheme.

Member 002949: How much of a backlog is there in processing licences? When will it be sorted? Why did the backlog happen?

There is a temporary backlog in us processing applications because we received such a glut of them after January this year. We allowed the security industry 14 months in which to submit their licence applications and we agreed with most of the industry that they would submit to us about 8,000 a month, spread over 14 months. Despite warnings they failed to do that, so we had a situation where in October we should have received about 72,000 licence applications, but we had actually only received 17,000 applications. We warned people that our systems were there ready and waiting but they just weren’t sending in the applications, and of course then, come January, they all started to flood in.

We increased our processing capacity from 10,000 a month to 24,000 a month and doubled the staff working on it, so we are doing our best and the backlog should be cleared shortly.

We’re now over a month past the implementation date so even people who applied a month before the implementation date should have their licence by now. We are now working on applications we received after the implementation date.

The backlog will be sorted by the end of May/ beginning of June, then we will be back to our usual processing time of about six weeks.

Member 00367: Security operators and companies have to pay £190 for a licence that is valid for three years. Why would you lose a year by applying too early? Is it not considerations like these which made people reluctant to apply too early?

We were disappointed with some of the industry that promised they would ensure they managed the applications for their staff and that they would submit to us in time, and it was the industry that asked for 14 months in which to do it.

The licence is only valid for three years. So if it is issued before the implementation date you do initially lose a bit of time. The legislation says the licence is valid on the day it is issued because it is a snapshot in time. We do your checks and if they are ok we have to issue the licence there and then. You may lose some time but the benefits of being licensed early meant that the individual was ready for licensing and, of course, the company could apply for Approved Contractor Scheme status early on.

So we thought the short-term benefit was people getting licensed in time. In fact many security companies were offering very good golden handshakes for officers who were licensed early.

Member 00675: Why did the SIA not increase output of licences sooner? Did the SIA not consider delaying the implementation date?

Delaying the implementation date would just have delayed the problem. We allowed people 14 months to get licensed; if they didn’t do it within those 14 months when would they do it? And of course if you delay the date then you hinder the people who applied early.

To be fair a lot of security companies were insistent that we didn’t move the date, even though we said very early on that we weren’t planning to. Many security companies have invested a lot of money in being ready and we know that a lot of contracts changed hands before the offence date, and those companies that weren’t ready lost out. So it was a commercial decision, and had a commercial advantage for many companies.

Member 00998: If an application has been submitted but the licence hasn’t been received back, and the company is not part of the ACS, can a guard work?

It’s like a driving licence: you have to have it before you can use it. On 23 March the SIA issued a statement that made it absolutely clear that there were no special arrangements that would allow companies to deploy unlicensed security operatives. If somebody is in the system and they’ve made efforts to get licensed we would look favourably upon that, but we cannot give people the right to work illegally.

Member 00878: What is the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS)? What does it allow a company to do? How do you become an approved contractor? If a company has applied for approved contractor status, but hasn’t been approved yet, can they use unlicensed guards?

It is a voluntary scheme where a company asks us to inspect its systems. We get an independent assessment of that company; if we think they are worthy we will grant them Approved Contractor status. That status is like a hallmark of quality, a preferred provider, and once they have that they can use the ACS accreditation.

We also promote them as an Approved Contractor. We’ve spent quite a bit of money promoting the ACS as the only place that people should buy security; it allows
public confidence.

To be approved for Approved Contractor status you need to have good management and structure and offer good training for your staff. We look at all aspects of a company such as whether they’ve had any complaints, what procedures they’ve put in place and how well they provide security. Right across the board we look at their operations, their staff, their managers, the whole company.

There are certain advantages to being an Approved Contractor. We will promote the ACS amongst government and insurance companies, and everybody else, saying that you should only buy security from Approved Contractors.

If you are an Approved Contractor there is another huge benefit; for a small percentage of your staff you can employ them, and deploy them, without having an actual licence in their hand, as long as they’ve undergone and passed their training and had their application accepted for processing. That is a huge advantage because otherwise the security company would employ someone and have to train them and get them licensed, it could take ten weeks before they could actually start working. If you’re an Approved Contractor you can train them, send off their application, and once it’s accepted they can start working. Companies only get this benefit when they have been approved, until then they can’t use unlicensed guards.

Plus Section 16 of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 makes it an offence for a company to claim it is an Approved Contractor when it is not; this includes indirectly claiming to be an Approved Contractor by displaying the ACS accreditation mark. The penalty for committing an offence under Section 16 is a fine of up to £5,000.

Member 00887: Where can a company find out if a security provider is an Approved Contractor? Can they call up the SIA to find out if an individual/company is licensed?

We have a list on our website of every company that has been awarded ACS so far, and that will remain updated.

On our website there is also a list of registered holders if someone wants to check that a licence is valid. It’s not a general search facility — you can’t go in and search for your neighbours — you need some basic information like the name, the licence number, or the sector. But if an employer wants to check whether a licence is valid they can go onto the website to the Register of Licence Holders and that will tell them.

Member 00789: What happens if I use unlicensed guards? Who is liable — the security guard/the security provider/the contractor?

Under the Private Security Industry Act 2001 it is illegal to work as an unlicensed operative or to supply unlicensed operatives.

If I’m working as a security guard in the designated area, and I’m not licensed, then I’m committing an offence. Also, if I directly employ you to carry out the security functions for me and I know you’re not licensed I am committing an offence. If I employ you to secure a site for me, and you provide unlicensed security for that site, you’re the one committing the offence not me. I’ll have a duty of care to ensure that you only have licensed operatives on my site but because you’re providing it you’re committing the offence. That is because I could employ you to secure a site for me and never actually go there myself so I wouldn’t check that the staff are licensed.

Member 00667: To fulfil the duty of care I have, how do I ensure that my security operators are licensed?

I would advise them to use only approved contractors because they have a lot to lose. If a security guard is licensed you should be able to see it — security guards should wear their licences overtly when they are working.

Member 00678: What penalties would each face? Will you wait until the backlog is cleared until you start prosecuting?

In the Magistrates Court the maximum penalty is a £5,000 fine and/or six months in prison, this would normally be for individuals. If you are supplying unlicensed operatives it would probably go to the higher court and the maximum penalties are an unlimited fine and/or five years’ imprisonment.

After 20 March it is illegal to work in the designated sectors without a licence. That is the law, we can’t change that; enforcement is continuing.

However, we realise that a lot of people left it too late and when we consider what actions to take prosecution is never the first option, we have others. Before we take any action we look at: were they prepared for licensing? When did they take their training? When did they apply for their licence? Indeed, have they applied for their licence?

Member 00598: Is it true that the backlog has caused problems such as large numbers of security guards becoming unemployed? Plus, isn’t it fostering a climate where licensed guards are given financial incentives to move companies, or where security companies bump their prices up because of the shortage?

Have we heard of security guards being made redundant? No, we have not. We know some people have chosen not to remain in the industry, some people have decided for their own reasons that they don’t want to do the training or the criminal checks and a few companies have reported to us some unexpected resignations, but we are not aware of any major redundancies or people being forced out of the job.

We do know that people are offering golden handshakes; anecdotal information says it is up to £500/£600 in some cases. We said early on that someone who had a licence in their hand would be a commodity because we knew there would be people at the end who wouldn’t be licensed in time. The same thing happened with door supervisors when we licensed them. We know their wages went up and that there were more legitimate security companies formed who could charge a premium for their services.

We have been warning buyers of security for some time now that prices will rise. That is a natural effect: if you’re having to pay for a licence and you’re having to undergo training as part of that, there is a cost for the individual and the security company and that will need to be passed onto the buyers of security. On the other hand we are saying to the buyers you are getting a better quality of product, something that you can rely on. At least now you know you are getting trained, qualified, fit and proper people. So buyers were prepared for a price rise.

CCTV confusion

You need a Public Space Surveillance CCTV licence if you are involved with operating CCTV equipment which is either deployed into fixed positions or has a pan, tilt and zoom capability where your role requires you to do any of
the following:

  • Pro-actively monitor the activities of members of the public whether they are in public areas or on private property;
  • Use cameras to focus on the activities of particular people either by controlling or directing cameras at an individual’s activities;
  • Use cameras to look out for particular individuals;
  • Use recorded CCTV images to identify individuals or to investigate their activities.

Anyone involved in providing contracted Public Space Surveillance CCTV services needs a licence. This includes employees, managers, supervisors and directors or partners of security companies.

A Public Space Surveillance CCTV licence will not be required where cameras are monitored:

  • to solely identify intruders/trespassers onto a site and to monitor intruders/trespassers activities; and/or
  • for the protection of vehicles or buildings against theft or damage to that property or premises and not specifically to monitor members of the public who may enter that property.

However, a security guarding licence will be required for these activities.

The SIA has also produced a serious of case studies on its site to help people to understand whether they need a CCTV licence or

How large is the security backlog?

*Applications on system: 78,793
Licences granted: 47,943
Licences refused: 864

Cash & Valuables in Transit
*Applications on system: 8,289
Licences granted: 6,972
Licences refused: 40

Public Space Surveillance CCTV
*Applications on system: 1,992
Licences granted: 528
Licences refused: 7

*Applications on system = the number of licence applications that have been entered onto the system. This figure includes licence applications being processed, licence applications returned to the applicant for clarification/amendment; licences granted and licences refused.

Figures from the SIA website 3 May 2006

SIA Enforcement Policy

The SIA has produced an enforcement policy — code of practice to explain to businesses how licences will be regulated and enforced. The code of practice states:

“The Security Industry Authority (SIA) regulates the private security industry as set out in the Private Security Industry Act 2001; this Enforcement Policy Code of Practice is produced in accordance with section 20 of the Act.

“The SIA aims to raise standards of professionalism and skills within the private security industry and promote and spread best practice. Part of our responsibility is to ensure that regulation is being complied with, so the SIA is provided with enforcement capability under the Act.

“The SIA believes that appropriate use of enforcement powers is important both to secure compliance with the law and to ensure that those who have responsibilities under it are held to account for failures to comply with the details of the legislation; to this effect, the SIA has also signed up to the European Enforcement Concordat.

“We have a range of enforcement actions at our disposal which will assist in securing compliance with the law and allows a proportionate response to offences. SIA Investigators may offer verbal or written warnings where they find companies, organisations or individuals failing to comply with the law.

“They can issue improvement notices which will offer advice and guidance and a manageable time frame in which to rectify matters. The SIA also has the option to initiate prosecutions for breaches of legislation; however compliance in the first instance will always be the preferred option.

“The Private Security Industry Act 2001 has created several offences concerned with engaging in a licensable activity without the correct SIA licence and employing an unlicensed person to carry out licensable tasks.”

Sources of Further Information

British Security Industry Association (BSIA)

Security Industry Authority (SIA)