Boss charges former interns £300 for a referenceTIGHT-FISTED EMPLOYER INSISTS IT IS A “FAIR ADMINISTRATIVE FEE”


Former interns who worked at a London thinktank have been told they must pay a £300 fee if they want a job reference from their old employer. The organisation’s boss – a former aide to a Liberal Democrat peer – insists the charge is a “fair administrative fee”.

The story was exposed after an ex-employee approached Graduate Fog with the allegation, which we passed to the Observer for further investigation.

The thinktank’s boss Jan Mortier describes himself as a former consultant to Lord Garden, a one-time defence spokesman for Nick Clegg’s party. He admitted that he charges former unpaid trainees at his Civitatis International organisation for references – but he denied that they had been interns, on the basis that they had been “trained directly” by him.

The Observer confirmed that Mortier has recently written to graduates from Civitatis’ “junior associate programme” to inform them they must pay a £300 fee each time they want an employment reference.

The programme – which has now ended – saw young people pay over £1,600 for a three-month “unique experience in project management training at our international secretariat in the City of London that was instituted by us because British universities are not giving the skills or experience necessary to help young people secure careers in the policy sector”.

Civitatis – which has in the past submitted evidence to parliamentary select committees as a thinktank – appears to be very comfortable with charging young jobseekers for what it views as valuable experience, training and contacts.

Currently, the organisation invites “successful” junior associates to pay an additional £400 to £600 a year to become fellows of the organisation, which it describes as a private members’ club for “future leaders”.

And it makes big claims about where its opportunities will lead – claiming that “for a decade, Civitatis International has been coaching our junior associates to get policy jobs paying £24-£32,000 per year with a 100% success rate”. However, when approached by the Observer, Mortier admitted that “one or two” alumni might not have reached their goals yet.

Most recently, the organisation has started advertising a summer school at a cost of £400 for the week. Those who attend are promised a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students around the world to gain employable skills”.

Graduate Fog has spoken previously of the ‘wild west’ nature of the graduate job market, in which some employers brazenly take advantage of young jobseekers’ desperation to gain skills, experience and contacts they view as vital to get their career off the ground.

As this website’s founder, Tanya de Grunwald, told the Observer, the Civitatis cash-for-references case seems to be an extreme example of how the hopes of some young jobseekers are being abused in a job market where employers hold all the cards.

We think employing unpaid interns – or asking young people to pay for experience – is bad enough. But charging them for a reference when their placement comes to an end is appalling. We keep being assured that the graduate job market is picking up, but this case shows that there are still dark corners of it where unscrupulous employers are happy to try their luck and see how much they can get away with. 

Have you ever been asked to pay a fee to a former employer, for a reference or anything else? What do you think of the £300 charge Civitatis is demanding?

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