Prison Officer vetting 101

Image of male writing on paper

This blog provides potential applicants to the prison service with real-life stories from prison staff, and useful information on the recruitment process.

We’re incredibly pleased that within the first few months of the blog’s launch, we’ve received over 150 comments. However, this also showed us that there’s a need to answer some commonly asked questions, mostly around vetting.

HMPPS pre-employment checks (vetting) on average can take around 12 weeks to complete. We know that’s not short, and many applicants have a lot of questions about what happens in the meantime.

Therefore, this blog post will contain all the information we’re able to provide on vetting in one place. We may update this blog post depending on how many further queries we receive on vetting.

How long does vetting take?

Due to the extensive nature of security and pre-employment checks we need to make for someone to become a prison officer, vetting can take on average 12 weeks to complete.

We do have processes in place to ensure that vetting is prioritised for prisons that are short staffed. So, vetting for those prisons may take less than 12 weeks as long there are no other delays (more information on possible delays below).

When does vetting start?

Vetting starts after you’ve:

  • passed your Recruitment Assessment Day (RAD) and provided your correct identity documents
  • been given a provisional offer of employment (as opposed to being held on a merit list)
  • accepted your provisional offer of employment
  • submitted your online pre-employment onboarding forms

What is the 'merit list'?

It’s effectively a waiting list for a job vacancy. You may be placed on a merit list if the prison you've applied to has a high-level of competition or limited vacancies. The list is ordered based on performance at the RAD. So, you may not be guaranteed an offer even if you've passed your RAD, and vetting won’t take place until you’ve been offered a job (as detailed above).

You’ll remain on the merit list for up to 12 months after the date you passed your RAD, as this is how long your RAD accreditation lasts. It’s worth bearing in mind that you only need to have been offered a job within those 12 months before your accreditation expires - you don’t need to actually be in post.

How can I avoid delays with vetting?

1) Bring the correct and complete documents with you to your RAD

Incomplete or incorrect documentation is a common cause that delays vetting, so make sure you follow the documentation instructions carefully.

If you don’t bring your correct or complete documents to the RAD, your application won’t automatically progress onto the vetting stage and instead you’ll need to bring your documents into the prison you’ve applied to and get them validated, which naturally causes delays.

You’ll receive email and text communications 48 hours prior to your RAD to remind you what documents you need to bring. You’ll also be sent a copy of the Pre-employment Screening Guidance.

2) Complete your documentation correctly and as soon as possible

When you’re requested for information, make sure you respond as quickly as possible. The sooner you correctly complete your forms, the sooner the vetting team can start the pre-employment checks.

3) Get in touch with the Vetting Action Team

If you’re unsure about what documents are acceptable or have any other questions, the Vetting Action Team will be able to help - their details will be provided in an email to you.

What happens after vetting?

Once your pre-employment checks have been completed, you’ll be contacted by a member of the HMPPS recruitment team with a verbal offer of employment which you’ll need to either accept or decline verbally. They’ll agree your start date with you and book you onto your Prison Officer Entry Level Training.

You’ll then receive your formal written offer of employment, containing you contract and terms and conditions, which you can then accept online.

How do I tell when I've passed vetting?

You'll be able to tell if you've passed vetting by logging into your online applicant portal and seeing if your status has been updated to say that pre-employment checks have been successfully completed.

I'm worried about how long it's taking for my vetting to complete. Who can I talk to?

As mentioned, vetting can take around 12 weeks to complete so don’t be too worried if you’re approaching this timescale as this is normal.

However, if you’ve been waiting longer than this time you can get in touch with the Vetting Contact Point (VCP) at the prison you’ve been allocated to. You need to ring through the main prison number and ask to be put through to the VCP, or alternatively the People Hub.

However, it’s important to note that you can only request an update if you’ve been in pre-employment checks for more than 6 weeks. If you phone earlier, they won’t be able to provide you with an update.

I already have Security Clearance from my current/previous job. Will this help to speed up the vetting process?

This depends on which prison establishment you’ve applied to. If you’ve applied to a Youth Estate or a High Security (Category A) prison which requires a Counter Terrorist Check (CTC) or Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, then yes it can help to speed things up for those checks if you’ve already had them done.

You should provide details of these checks on the pre-employment onboarding forms.

However, we’re not able to use these in place of the standard pre-employment checks around health, employment history and criminal convictions etc. These checks would still need to be completed, and vetting on average can take around 12 weeks.

Do you contact my existing or previous employers for references during vetting?

We don’t necessarily need to contact your existing or previous employers for references during the vetting process. Our employment references are done via the HMRC process, which involves checking your declared employment details against the HMRC system to see if you are/were paying NI and tax during the corresponding dates in your employment history.

If we're not able to confirm this via this route, we would then approach your existing/previous employers for full references.

When should I resign from my current job?

We always recommend you don’t hand in your notice with your current employer until you’ve received confirmation that all pre-employment checks have been completed and you’ve been approached to discuss a start date. We will happily work around a candidate's notice period when organising a start/training date.

If you have more queries about the stages in the recruitment process, you can find a summary of the candidate journey on the Prison Officer Recruitment Portal.

You can also find out more information on the prison and probation jobs website.


  1. Comment by Callum posted on

    Hello there,

    What if you move/ want to move during the vetting process?
    Additionally, will starting a new (temporary) job have any impact on the vetting process?

    Thank you.

    • Replies to Callum>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Callum,

      If you’re moving jobs or house you’ll need to provide the vetting contact point (VCP) with your up-to-date details, including your ID and address documents, so that they can be verified. To get in touch with the VCP, please call the prison you’ve applied to and ask to be put through to the VCP or People Hub.

      Thanks, Helena

  2. Comment by Damian posted on

    Hello. Which prison can give me job first? There is two prisons. One is who have merit list campaign. Secound This is a PASS CAMPAIGN for prison officers.

    I am on merit list for this first prison. Can I apply for this secound and I will pass another RAD. Is this keep me on the list for first prison and give me chance get quicker job in secound?

    • Replies to Damian>

      Comment by Emily posted on

      Hi Damian,

      You are able to apply to as many prisons as you like, but you can only take forward one application. For example, if you are given an offer for multiple prisons you will need to choose one prison and reject the others.

      In your instance, as you're on the merit list for one prison, you're still able to apply to others and if you pass the online test for each prison you've applied to, you'll be able to transfer your existing RAD accreditation if you wish (you only need to take one RAD) to the new application.

      Please contact the Recruitment Contact Centre on 0845 241 5358 to discuss your application further.

  3. Comment by Tom posted on

    My steria profile has changed from " undergoing vetting" to " we will contact you shortly with the next stage" is this stage booking POELT? How long does it usually take for the PS to get in touch and offer a start date?
    - Thanks in advance, Tom

  4. Comment by taylor posted on


    My application says..
    We shall be in contact with you shortly to let you know the next stage of the recruitment process.
    Its been like this for a while now, what does this mean?

  5. Comment by Rebecca posted on

    Hi, I’ve just passed my RAD and have received an email saying I have been put on the merit list for my chosen prison. I know my accreditation is valid for 6 month, but was just wondering if you have any idea on how long it usually takes for vacancies to come up and if I have any chance of securing a position within the 12 month? Thanks

    • Replies to Rebecca>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Rebecca,

      Congrats on passing your RAD! I’m afraid we’re not able to advise on how long you’ll be on the merit list for because it’s dependent on when a vacancy opens up at the prison you’ve applied to. However, you’re on the merit list for up to 12 months from the date you’ve passed your RAD.

      Thanks, Helena

  6. Comment by Jamie posted on

    Good evening,

    I’m currently going through vetting , I submitted my pre employment checks 17/11/17. I made a mistake on with my National Insurance number , so had to send a document in , I was becoming concerned about the vetting but fortunately the evening vetting team replied to an email I sent , they confirmed that they are waiting on HMRC to get back to them and assured me they will progress my application. So my question is do you know how long roughly HMRC are likely to take and are there many more steps to vetting that come after this? If so any ideas how long at all.

    Many thanks


  7. Comment by Toni wright posted on

    Hi, iv been in vetting alone for 23 weeks and my application currently says..
    “Your application is currently going through pre-employment checks”
    Could you enlighten me on where I stand currently, are last week it says it had been referred for client decision.

    • Replies to Toni wright>

      Comment by Toni wright posted on

      My application has now been updated and has gone back 2 stages to currently going through employment checks if we require any details etc I need to provide them.. can you help with why this has happened?

      • Replies to Toni wright>

        Comment by Helena posted on

        Hi Toni,

        I’m sorry to hear the difficulties you’ve been having, I’m afraid I don’t hold this information of where you currently are in your recruitment journey. It is possible there were some issues with the documents provided at the RAD. To check this, please call the prison you’ve applied to and ask for the Vetting Contact Point (VCP) or the People Hub - they should be able to help.

        Thanks, Helena

  8. Comment by Natalie posted on


    I've just passed my RAD and received an email explaining about the merit list and that the process of contacting applicants will start once all the RAD assesments have finished. However I logged onto the portal and my application status explains that I have not been recruited at this time and will remain on the merit list for 12 months. Does this mean that all the assesments have finished and the vacancies have been filled?

    Kind regards.

    • Replies to Natalie>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Natalie,

      Congratulations on passing your RAD! From the information you’ve provided, it appears that you’ve been placed on the merit list. There are still candidates going through the assessment process so not all vacancies have been filled as of yet. Once the merit list order is confirmed, HMPPS will be able to make job offers as vacancies open up throughout the 12 months period.

      Thanks, Helena

  9. Comment by Mark Hughes posted on

    I recently passed all the role plays and exams for the RAD, but failed the fitness test. I am retaking just the fitness test next week, which i am confident i will pass. Fingers crossed. That will then take me to the next stage. The problem i have is i have a holiday booked for the last two weeks of October. If i was fortunate enough to be offered a job, i fear this would clash with the POELT course. Will pre-booked holidays be honoured? I am conscious the POELT course needs to be completed in one go. Thanks.

    • Replies to Mark Hughes>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Mark,

      Best of luck for your fitness test! As per the blog post, after you’ve been successful in your RAD you’ll then enter the vetting stage which takes on average 12 weeks. It’s only once you’ve passed vetting you’ll be invited to book onto POELT.

      POELT courses run on a continuous basis meaning you should be able to pick a date that doesn’t clash with your holiday.

      Thanks, Helena

  10. Comment by Robinson posted on

    We shall be in contact with you shortly to let you know the next stage of the recruitment process.Can you give me more info about this message ? Did i or did not pass the vetings ? They will contact me for a formal offer ? Is been 3 months from passing the assesment day and starting the veting procedures. Thank you.

    • Replies to Robinson>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Robinson,

      I’m afraid I don’t hold information of where each candidate is on their recruitment journey. Vetting takes on average 12 weeks, you’ll be able to tell if you’ve passed vetting by logging into the online applicant portal and seeing if your status has been updated to say that your pre-employment checks have successfully completed. You can contact the prison you’ve applied to and ask for either the Vetting Contact Point (VCP) or the People Hub if you’re concerned.

      Thanks, Helena

  11. Comment by Daniel posted on

    Good morning
    I done the online test and i have booked the RAD test end of this month. On the same time i need to move and I don’t know if this affect the vetting after. If i give the documets for vetting before i move and after i will have different adress. Can i have one advice how to proceed? Thank you Daniel

    • Replies to Daniel>

      Comment by Helena posted on

      Hi Daniel,

      Best of luck for your RAD! If you move house before you reach the vetting stage, you can update your address on the Application Centre. If you move house whilst in the vetting stage and already submitted your on-boarding form, you should update your address on the Application Centre and contact the Contact Centre on 0845 241 5358.

      I hope this helps.

      Thanks, Helena


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