The Security Staff Agency Scandal

The term “security agency staff” is enough to bring most operations managers out in a cold sweat.

The term “security agency staff” is enough to bring most operations managers out in a cold sweat. 

Sadly, as the SIA does not yet licence the companies that provide Security Officers, this sector of the industry has become a breeding ground for unscrupulous or down right criminal operators. These individuals are out to make a fast buck, with no regard for the quality of their service, or wellbeing of the personnel that they deploy. 

It is worse than that however. 

The biggest profit comes from paying as little as possible. With this in mind many of these agencies will tell their Security Officers that they are “self employed”, and in so doing, avoid paying employer’s national insurance contributions, holiday pay, SSP and the rest. Worse still, the pay rates that they offer may sometimes fall below the legal minimum wage. Sometimes considerably.

How do they get away with it?

The most effective way to prevent their Security Officers reporting them, or raising any voice in objection, is to employ those that have something to lose, or have something to hide. They are a magnet for dodgy staff using fake or cloned SIA licences, or that have fraudulently obtained their mandatory training certificates from one of the many cowboy training organisations out there. (I do, however, know that there are a lot of fantastic training companies out there, doing great work to the highest standards. I clearly do not want to tar them with the same brush.) In many cases, these “trainers” are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that a candidate can not speak English, and will help them to pass the course that they never took, by simply cutting and pasting the answers for the test. 

Alas, I am in no way exaggerating this. Last year, after receiving some compelling evidence, I published an article on the subject which gained the interest of the media, subsequently leading to a BBC File On Four investigation into training malpractice, which finally woke many people up to the problem.

These agencies can exploit the naivety of new arrivals to the UK, and encourage this form of criminality, in order to develop a compliant workforce, happy to work for £9 – £10 per hour, and unlikely to blow the whistle on them for fear of criminal action, or in many cases, deportation.

Turning a blind eye.

In 2024 however, you would think it impossible for this level of criminality and malpractice to survive, let alone thrive. So why aren’t the handcuffs clicking and thousands of suspect SIA licences being revoked? 

Quite simply, profit is King! 

If you run a security company, and a client pays you £18 per hour for each security officer you provide, and for example, it costs you £16.50 per hour to cover your overheads, pay close to minimum wage to your Security Officers, pay national insurance, holiday pay, payroll processing, management and supervision salaries, SSP, maintenance of your lovely offices, and fleets of company vehicles……… then that £1.50 per hour profit doesn’t seem so great to your shareholders.

If Acme Dodgepot Security (“ADS8”….. The 8 referring to the amount of times that the company has had to fold and reopen with a new name, to avoid HMRC investigations) then shows up and says “I’ll supply you with licensed and fully BS7858 vetted (on paper….) Security Officers for £14 per hour, and you don’t have to worry about any costs” well, guess what? £4 per hour clear profit suddenly seems like a no brainer! 

As long as these security companies don’t dwell too hard on the fact that £14 per hour will not allow a decent company to legally employ those Security Officers.

And don’t worry about the potential danger that Security Officers with potential communication issues, may pose in an emergency situation.

And don’t look too hard at the fact that these Officers do not seem to know anything that is covered in legitimate SIA mandatory training.

Holding the industry back.

So many of the awful Security Officers employed by these suspect staff agencies work in public facing roles. At the very least, too many end clients see these Officers as typical of the calibre of front line workers within the UK security industry. 

It makes us all look bad. It will also foil every one of the well meaning attempts to “professionalise the industry” or improve public perceptions, that many security trade organisations instigate from time to time. 

There are so many professional, diligent, well trained and engaged front line Security Officers out there, all suffering from being associated with the dubious underbelly of the sector, fuelled by these shady staff agencies. It is not right. And nothing will improve until so many, currently turning a blind eye to the subject, decide to act.

A better way.

Let’s be perfectly honest here. Security Officer’s go sick. They can quit without notice, or take emergency leave. Security Companies will also have unexpected requests for additional officers, or win contracts in areas that they have difficulty recruiting in. So, like it or not, there will always be a need for some form of 3rd party Security personnel supply.

Your source of genuinely professional Security Officers however, is never going to be a means to make a quick and easy profit. They will charge a rate that covers all the legally required costs. They will pay their Officers well, and will charge a reasonable profit margin on top.

What the Government says.

We all know that the SIA has no sway on pay rates, and market forces are left to decide. There is however, one Government agency, operating in a similar field, that has very publicly gone on the record and posted their guidance on the minimum rates that legitimate companies should be charging for the services of their workers.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) are very clear on the subject. Take a look here:

In a nutshell they say:

“Labour Provider Overhead and Service Charge Costs. Defra analysis conducted in 2003 estimated labour provider overhead costs as 30% on top of the National Minimum Wage. In reaching this figure Defra state that the result is not intended to be a realistic description of the costs of any particular labour provider business (e.g. it makes no attempt to allow for the costs of rent / interest charges on office accommodation, which may vary widely from one business to another). It also states that this figure is likely to understate the actual costs for almost all businesses as well as making no allowance for management costs or profit.”

They go on:

“Depending on its business model, a labour provider could charge less than the rates published. However, any figure significantly less than the published rates raises concerns of non-compliance to reduce costs. The GLAA will closely scrutinise charges that are less than the published rates to make sure the labour provider is operating compliantly.”

The bottom line.

Any staff agency that isn’t charging an absolute MINIMUM of 30% above the Officer’s pay rate, before profit and head office costs are added:  “raises concerns of non-compliance”. 

Not my words. Shoot the GLAA! It’s a shame that the Security Industry Authority does not feel able to produce similar guidance.

So what can security companies do?

If you need quality Security Officers, that will protect your company reputation, and you care about their wellbeing, you will have to pay a realistic rate.

You also need to look for companies that:

  • Have an open and transparent charge rate.
  • Carefully interview and test both the security knowledge, and communication skills, of their Security Officer candidates prior to employment.
  • Fully PAYE employment of their staff.
  • Genuinely carefully vet their people to BS7858 standard.
  • Are open to, and encourage, external auditing.
  • Want to work with you to provide the highest quality service, to enhancing your company’s reputation, and reflect positively on the industry as a whole.

A quick warning

It isn’t all doom and gloom. Many companies are waking up to the problem and are seeking to help find a solution, moving away from the problematic traditional staff agencies, to the more tech driven, quality providers, that are still few and far between. 

Just please avoid one of the most common mistakes. 

Staff agencies having SIA Approved Contractor Scheme accreditation, does in no way guarantee the quality of the company, or the service that you can expect. An SIA auditor can only assess the information that they are shown. A company may have a handful of Security Officers on the payroll, all properly vetted, paying tax and national insurance, and with a perfect set of HR files. They can also have the other 95% of their workforce working cash in hand, with no official records, no payments to HMRC, and all with highly dubious backgrounds. You were warned.

If you don’t want to take any chances….

For the record, I am 100% completely and utterly biassed on this, as I was asked to help set up the service, and will have a hand in running it going forward to ensure the quality is maintained, but check out the Flexible Guarding service from the people behind the huge GuardPass app.

It’s brand new, but already has nearly 4000 Security Officers, vetted, professionally certified, and ready to deploy right now. Not a “shirt filler” (I hate that term), suspect SIA Licence, communication problem, or strange lack of security knowledge in sight!)

Even with its excellent charge rates, it is going to be the highest quality 3rd party Security Personnel provider in the UK. 

A lot of good people that really want to improve our industry, will make certain of it!