Graduates who have tried to pull out of unpaid training schemes that did not guarantee them a job have been asked to pay up to £21,000 by outsourcing firm Capita.

The company, one of Britain's largest in its sector, advertised a number of positions in its IT department, which specified applicants must be a graduate and able to attend four months of unpaid training in either Manchester or London.

According to the Guardian, a number of applicants were left disappointed with the scheme, some describing it as "absolutely useless", as it lacked any direct on-the-job training.

"All you get is academic textbooks to read. Anyone expecting a hands-on approach would be disappointed," one was quoted as saying.

"I was offered a few opportunities by other graduate schemes and companies [during the Capita training] but I refused them as I was under the threat of a liability to pay £21,000. I thought at the end of it how foolish I was."

A former trainee who opted to quit after just over 12 months of working for the company, was told to pay back £21,000. Once she refused and protested, she left the company without her last monthly salary, worth approximately £1,200.

"I think they knew I was vulnerable as I started as a graduate," the trainee said.

Capita, which provides a number of services, including BBC licence fee collection and store card services for retailers, said it charged £13,000 to trainees wanting to leave the company before the end of their training and two years of work.

"All participants in the training are made fully aware, at numerous times prior to commencing the training, that it is provided free of charge to only those people who successfully complete the course and are engaged by Capita or a Capita client," a company's spokesman said.

"Those who successfully complete the training but cannot be found a role within 90 days also receive the training free of charge."