Security Industry Authority

Security Industry Authority
Founded 2003
Type Non-departmental public body
Focus Regulating the private security industry
  • London, UK
Area served
  • Compulsory licensing of individuals working in specific sectors of the private security industry
  • Managing the Approved Contractor Scheme
Key people
Alan Clamp (Chief Executive)
Elizabeth France (Chair)
169 permanent staff, 212 staff overall (2009/10 financial year)[1]

The Security Industry Authority (SIA) is the organisation responsible for regulating the private security industry in the UK. It is a non-departmental public body reporting to the Home Secretary and was established in 2003 under the terms of the Private Security Industry Act 2001.

The SIA has two main duties. One is the compulsory licensing of individuals undertaking designated activities within the private security industry; the other is to manage a voluntary Approved Contractor Scheme, which measures private security suppliers against independently assessed criteria.

SIA Licensing

One of the main duties of the SIA is the compulsory licensing of individuals working in specific sectors of the private security industry.

Whether or not an individual requires a licence is determined by the role that is performed and the activity that is undertaken. These are described fully in Section 3 and Schedule 2 of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 (as amended). It is a criminal offence to engage in licensable conduct without a licence: if found guilty, the maximum penalty is six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

Licensable Activities (Sectors)

The activities defined as licensable by the Act are:

The Private Security Industry Act 2001 (as amended) allows for SIA licensing of private investigation activities, security consultants and precognition agents. However, the SIA does not currently license these activities.

On 1 October 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 made it an offence to undertake vehicle immobilisation in England and Wales without lawful authority. As a result, the SIA cancelled most of the vehicle immobiliser licences held by individuals located in England and Wales. Exceptions were made for those individuals wishing to undertake vehicle immobilisation activities in Northern Ireland (where vehicle immobilisation is still legal) or key holding and non-front line security roles across the United Kingdom (which any SIA licence allows).

On 31 July 2013 the Home Secretary announced that the SIA will be regulating private investigators. No specific timescales were given, although the announcement stated that "The regulation of private investigators will be introduced as quickly as possible and the new regime will begin next year [2014]."[2]

Types of SIA Licence

There are two types of SIA licence:

In-house Guarding

The Private Security Industry Act 2001 does not require manned guards employed in-house to be licensed unless their activities are in relation to licensed premises.

The SIA was charged by Parliament to investigate the implications of extending the legislation to cover in-house manned guards once licensing of the private security industry had been in force for three to four years. In order to meet this obligation the SIA consulted widely through a range of mechanisms.

Its assessment of the evidence took into account that regulation should only be targeted where action was needed; that regulation should only intervene where there is a clear case for public protection, and any proposal for further regulation should be proportionate and follow a risk-based approach.

Its conclusion is that there is no clearly defined or substantiated risk to public protection to be addressed and that it is unable to make a case which would justify extending its remit to include the licensing of in-house guards.

Licence-linked Qualifications

Individuals applying for a front line SIA licence must prove that they are properly qualified to do their job. If they don’t hold one of the SIA-endorsed qualifications then their licence application will be refused.

The licence-linked qualifications are intended for individuals entering the private security industry. Their purpose is to ensure that the individual is capable of performing their duties in a manner that will not cause harm to themselves or any member of the public. The qualifications are meant to address the core areas of the role; they are not intended to cover all of the training that an operative could possibly have.

The SIA does not run training courses or award qualifications; it also does not approve or vet training providers. The SIA specifies the knowledge and skills that a licence holder needs to know and be able to do, and these specifications form the basis of the qualifications linked to SIA licensing.

The SIA has endorsed certain awarding bodies to offer these qualifications and approve training providers. As of January 2012, these awarding bodies are: British Institute of Innkeeping Awarding Body (BIIAB); Buckinghamshire New University; City & Guilds; Edexcel; EDI; HABC; Industry Qualifications (IQ); Laser Learning Awards; NOCN; SQA.

In January 2008, Panorama carried out an undercover investigation into the training that candidates were undertaking to obtain their SIA licences. This revealed that mobile phone use and open talking in exams was common practice during the training course and examination that the reporter took.[3]

Training malpractice such as this is a matter for the various UK Qualification Regulatory Authorities. Training malpractice can be defined as any deliberate activity, neglect, default or other practice that compromises the integrity of the assessment process and / or the validity of certificates.

Confirmed cases of training malpractice may result in:

Approved Contractor Scheme

One of the main duties of the SIA is to manage the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS), a voluntary quality assurance scheme that measures private security suppliers against independently assessed operational and performance standards. Organisations that meet these standards are awarded 'Approved Contractor' status. At the end of March 2012, the total number of approved contractors was 729.[4]

The ACS is based upon widely recognised business improvement models: ISO9001 and the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Excellence Model. The Scheme also references the British Standard codes of practice applicable to the private security industry and conformance to the relevant codes is built into the ACS requirements.

Companies applying to the scheme are assessed against 89 individual indicators of achievement. The SIA does not normally assess contractors directly, though it may do so in exceptional circumstances. The usual practice is for assessment by one of the SIA's appointed assessing bodies. As of August 2010, these UKAS-accredited assessing bodies are: BSI; Chamber Certification Assessment Services Ltd; NSI (prop. Insight Certification Ltd); ISOQAR; SSAIB.

SIA approval is only available for the activities of an organisation that are regulated under the Private Security Industry Act 2001. Approval is sector-specific, so a company offering two different kinds of private security services may be approved in one but not the other. To maintain approval an approved contractor must re-register every year and renew approval every three years. This process means that approved contractors are independently assessed on an annual basis.

ACS Scoring

The ACS scoring system was not designed to be a differentiation tool. However, it can assist when gauging overall quality, provided that its limitations are understood.[5] It is important that the score is looked at alongside other differentiators (such as the contractor's reputation in the marketplace or the quality of its tender response) and not in isolation.

Falsely Claiming Approval

Claiming to be an approved contractor when this is not the case is an offence under section 16 of the Private Security Industry Act 2001. A section 16 offence includes use of the Approved Contractor Scheme accreditation mark or the use of language that may suggest approval or endorsement, such as "SIA registered" or "SIA member". The penalties for committing an offence under Section 16 are:

Varying Degrees of Success

Before the SIA was created it was widely accepted that the private security industry suffered from deep-rooted problems that it could not resolve on its own. The tendency for clients to treat security as a 'grudge spend' and award contracts to the lowest tender had forced down profit margins, which meant that private security companies had little money available for training and staff development. This, coupled with the often temporary nature of security work, had resulted in a high rate of staff turnover - which in turn, made it less likely that companies would train their staff any more than was absolutely necessary. The industry therefore found itself locked in a spiral of diminishing returns and deteriorating skills that it could not break out of.

The primary objective of SIA regulation was to improve public safety by ensuring that individuals placed in certain positions of trust had been checked and vetted, and were properly qualified to do their job. However, the SIA was also seen as the external force that could fix the industry's problems. Expectations were high - and, in the early days of regulation, the SIA believed that it could satisfy all of those expectations. As an example, the Authority claimed that regulation would help to increase wages: it believed that the introduction of licensing would create a shortage of manpower, which would stimulate demand and enable security companies to charge more for their services. This did not happen, and at the SIA's 2010 stakeholder conference its Chief Executive Bill Butler accepted this and took back the SIA's promise to create a 'golden age'.

However, reports published in August 2010 on the impact of SIA regulation[6] indicate that licensing has had a positive impact on the private security industry. Private security companies noted improvements in staff recruitment and retention; increased trust and improved relationships between guards and police; new money or investment from third parties. Private security operatives said that licensing had improved their range of skills, ability to do their job and future career options.

In 2007 it was widely reported that the SIA had granted licences to over 7,000 workers who were not legally entitled to work in the UK. Such reports damaged the credibility of SIA licensing despite the fact that the SIA had not, in fact, failed in its duties. The Authority has no statutory duty to carry out right to work checks - that is the responsibility of the employer. Matters were made worse because many people confused "not having the right to work" with "being an illegal immigrant". The two are completely different, and it is entirely possible for someone to have the legal right to remain in the UK - and therefore not be an "illegal immigrant" - but not have the legal right to work in the UK.

The SIA now works with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to check the right to work of all SIA licence applicants who are non-EEA nationals (EEA nationals automatically have a right to work in the UK). It also checks the right to work of SIA licence holders from outside the EEA (i.e. individuals who have met its licensing criteria and have been granted a licence). Where the recorded right to work of a licence holder expires before their SIA licence, a further check is undertaken with the UKBA and, if the results of that check suggest that the individual's right to work has expired, the SIA will revoke their licence. These checks do not in any way replace the legal responsibility of an employer to check the right to work of its employees.

2007 also saw the re-tendering of the SIA's Managed Service Provider (MSP) contract and the subsequent re-location of the Authority's document handling centre from Newcastle to Liverpool. Problems arising from this re-location and the late delivery of supporting IT systems resulted in a significant drop in service levels. This was exacerbated by the industrial action taken by members of the Communication Workers Union in October 2007. The SIA's licensing process relies heavily on the passing of documentation between the applicant and the SIA, and between the SIA and other bodies such as the Criminal Records Bureau. The CWU strike disrupted this and caused further delays.

All of this damaged the SIA's credibility yet again, because it developed a reputation for taking a long time to process applications - a reputation that persisted long after service levels had returned to normal.

The Future of the SIA

On 14 October 2010 the UK Government's Cabinet Office made an announcement on the future of many public bodies. Its intention for the SIA was stated as: "Security Industry Authority - No Longer an NDPB - Phased transition to new regulatory regime." The exact nature of this new regulatory regime is yet to be determined. In the meantime the existing regulatory regime remains in place and existing laws will continue to be enforced.

In March 2011 the SIA was removed from Schedule 1 of the Public Bodies Bill (subsequently, the Public Bodies Act 2011[7]).

On 20 November 2012 the Home Office published a consultation document entitled 'Consultation on a Future Regulatory Regime for the Private Security Industry'. The document proposes a regime in which individuals will continue to be licensed but the primary focus of the regulator will shift to a system of business regulation. The future status of the SIA is not considered.

On 11 January 2016 it was announced that a consultation into the future of the SIA was being conducted. The closing date for submissions is 18 February 2016. Organisations and individuals could submit opinions and experiences.[8]


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