A petition against ‘exit fees’ – started by an anonymous graduate currently trapped on FDM Group’s graduate programme, who says he can’t leave without paying £15,000 – has attracted nearly 6,000 signatures.

The author of Investigate FDM Group and other graduate schemes that charge giant ‘exit fees’ is anonymous, but the text says the graduate is currently contracted to work at ‘one of the UK’s biggest banks.’ HSBC, NatWest, Barclays, CitiGroup and Lloyd’s are all listed as clients of FDM, so it is likely to be one of them.

Yes, that’s right – this graduate is currently working one the premises of one of those banks, yet is not free to leave without handing over £15,000 to his employer.

Hundreds of angry young people have also left comments saying what’s happening is ‘disgusting’, ‘shameful’ and ‘This stinks’. The comments are not just aimed at these firms, but also at their clients: some of the UK’s biggest brands.

The graduate writes:

I started a job with one of the UK’s biggest banks. It’s my first full time job. And if I try to leave or change job within 2 years, they’ll charge me £15,000, payable in 30 days. My salary is £25,000 – I’m trapped.

I am one of around 4,000 UK graduates stuck in a job I’m not free to leave. If I quit, I’ll have to pay £15,000 within 30 days. If don’t pay, I’m told I’ll be chased by lawyers threatening bankruptcy.

I’m working at the head office of a massive UK bank – but I’m not actually employed by them, I’m hired as an IT consultant. My employer is FDM Group, one of the UK’s biggest IT outsourcing firms. They hire 1,000 graduates every year on contracts that include a so-called ‘exit fees’ clause. This allows them to claim huge sums if we quit in less than two years.

FDM claim this covers our training costs, but my training was really basic, all online, and most of it can be accessed for free on the internet. 

Update: FDM have just been listed among the best 75 companies for young people from poor backgrounds to work for, on the Social Mobility Foundation’s 2021 Employer Index (24 November 2021)

The petition is accompanied by a letter urging Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing, to investigate all the IT outsourcing (‘recruit, train deploy’, or RTD) companies known to be charging young people huge fees if they quit their graduate scheme in less than two years, after Graduate Fog published dozens of damning documents earlier this month as part of our campaign to #StopExitFeesByXmas.

This table summarises what has been going on:

Although these firms are not household names, many of their clients are well-known companies, brands and even government departments:

Here is the full list:

The letter to Mr Gove reads:

Dear Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities,

Please investigate FDM Group and the UK’s other big IT outsourcing firms currently charging huge fees to graduates who quit their scheme in less than two years – including Sparta Global, QA, Kubrick Group, Revolent, Ten10 and Geeks Limited.

They claim this is to cover training costs, but they dispute the standard of training that was provided – and many signed the contract when they felt unable to ask questions, as they feared the job offer might be retracted if they seemed like a troublemaker.

This practice of charging large ‘exit fees’ has a disproportionate impact on people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Therefore, it stands in direct opposition to this government’s promises to ‘level up’ the UK.

And here is the petition:

Many of those who signed the petition also left a comment. Here are some of them:

This clearly demonstrates the big companies taking advantage of the young, inexperienced graduates who are just trying to get started in life …. Wanting only for their family to be proud of them.

No one should have to pay to leave employment at any time. Staying in a job where you are unhappy can have dire consequences for mental and physical health.

A member of my family has had to pay for sub-standard training from FDM and suffered anxiety and financial loss by leaving their course early. This company should not be allowed to exploit people.

Disgusting to trick young people like this.

This is tantamount to slavery. Instead of charging ridiculous fees, make your working conditions good enough that no one wants to leave.

Fees of this kind are completely unjustified. This stinks.

Why are big companies using these firms? They should be ashamed!!    

Shameful practice. If it isn’t illegal, it should be.

By enforcing these obscene fees these companies can effectively completely control your employment. You will effectively have no freedom of choice in the type of work you’re offered, neither will you be able to turn any down.

Every new worker has to be trained. It’s not a gift it’s a necessity. This charge is ridiculous

FDM Group have been terrorizing graduates for years. They are a disgrace and it needs to stop. They brag about what a great employer they are, but so many graduates are miserable and hate it there.

Graduates need help, not bills and debt.

I am trapped in the same employment contract. I agree the exit fees do not reflect the training I received.

Graduates deserve better than to be treated like slave labour.

I don’t like to see young people being ripped off. Life is hard enough for them.

My time at FDM put me in serious financial difficulties. I only managed to keep above water by joining the Army Reserves for a second income. I found that not only did the large exit fees make it hard to leave due to not being able to afford them, it also put off any potential future employers as they were unsure of the potential legal ramifications if I broke my contract. Exit fees needs to be addressed, particularly in circumstances where the exit fee does not truly represent the value of the training that was provided

No-one should be locked in and trapped in any employment situation, it seems to be a kind of slavery.

Our youth deserve better than this.

Outrageous opportunism.

Taking advantage of anyone is wrong. When the individuals are young, inexperienced and keen to build a career the client’s behaviour is unforgivable.

The DWP should not use exploitive companies to recruit staff.

The way FDM operate is disgraceful using a mixture of intimidation tactics and legal jargon in order to enact what really comes down to a form of modern slavery disallowing their employees to leave. Happy to support this!

This is a modern way of enslaving young people.

This is against human rights. There are many reasons why someone may genuinely need to leave their job- demands of a new baby, an elderly relative getting sick, bullying, depression and anxiety. This a cruel contract and in my view this infringes on civil Liberty. It also opens wide the door for abuse of employees. This should be criminal/illegal. Make the change you know you should. Protect our young adults from this abusive manipulation.

This is outrageous, nobody should be charged to leave a job of any kind. How on earth are young people supposed to gain experience and find work if they are treated like this?! “Training” is no excuse!!!

This is outrageous. If companies are worried about staff leaving, they should think about what they are doing wrong and not target their employee and trap them and extort money from. Shocking behaviour by corporations (yet again).

You should never have to pay to leave a job. That takes away people’s free will. I have been trained in roles and was never asked to contribute towards the cost.

Young people are already struggling financially, often racking up huge debts due to tuition fees from university. Stop acting like criminals by conning them and stop this disgusting practice.

Your employer should not have the ability to fine you for quitting and make you feel like a prisoner in your job like this. Isn’t this forced labour??

The success of this petition follows outrage after a controversial decision by the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) to include FDM Group in their 2021 Employer Index, a list that is supposed to showcase the UK’s best 75 companies for young people from poorer backgrounds to work for.

Furious graduates have pointed out that FDM charge £15,000 if you leave in less than two years and Sparta Global – also listed in the Index – charge up to £8,000 (at one point it was £22,000). Graduates have questioned whether the SMF’s methodology is fit for purpose, if firms like this are being rewarded as champions of social mobility. In fact, those from poorer backgrounds are the most vulnerable. They are the most likely to be desperate for a job, the least likely to feel able to challenge their contract, and the most likely to be dazzled by the calibre of the firms’ clients. They are also the least likely to be able to buy their way out of the programme if they later decide they want to leave, as they have no way to access the sort of sums that their employer claims they owe.

BAFFLING: Two of the firms best known for charging large exit fees to graduates who leave their scheme in less than two years appeared in Social Mobility Foundation’s 2021 Employer Index, published last week

The SMF acknowledged that exit fees are a ‘concern’ but the organisation is understood to have felt that individual firms should not be ejected from the list once the official scoring had been done, as there was no question about exit fees in the assessment sent to applicants for the Employer Index this year. But graduates thought they had made the wrong call and missed the big picture, with one saying simply: ‘WTF, SMF?’

For the whole of November, Graduate Fog has been publishing damning revelations about the scandal of exit fees, as part of our campaign to Stop Exit Fees By Xmas. The campaign is gathering momentum, with support from water company Seven Trent, The Big Issue (including founder Lord Bird), and Good Law Project (including founder Jolyon Maugham QC).

Graduate Fog’s founder Tanya de Grunwald says the FDM graduates’ petition marks a significant shift in the power balance between exit fees employers and their graduates, announcing today:

“The firms that have been charging graduates huge exit fees if they leave in less than two years should be sweating. The popularity of this petition shows that the graduates who have suffered because of exit fees are finally finding their voice and mobilising online. 

“In some cases, their anger has been brewing for several years – and, as the campaign attracts more media attention, I expect the results to be explosive.

“If I were a client of FDM or any of the other firms listed here, I’d be moving fast to distance myself from these firms ASAP by joining the campaign to Stop Exit Fees By Xmas. Now you know what’s been happening, it will be increasingly difficult to defend using the services of these companies, when you’re complicit in their entrapment and misery.”

Ditch them before it’s in the mainstream press! Contact Tanya today to enquire about joining the campaign to Stop Exit Fees By Xmas.
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