Ever felt locked into a gym membership? Not because of your intense desire to get fit, but by the terms of your contract. A new ruling suggests you may be able to cancel it without straining your bank balance.
And I’m sure one of the big reasons why so many of us (myself included) hold onto our gym membership is because we feel locked into a contract, where cancelling will often incur a significant charge.
Well, the High Court has now ruled that contracts drawn up by one company, which runs membership schemes for over 1,000 gyms across Britain, were unfair and unenforceable.
OFT flexes its muscles
In 2010, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) brought court action against Ashbourne Management Services, which creates contracts and collects payments from more than 500,000 gym-goers.
Ashbourne’s contracts had minimum memberships of between one and three years. If you stopped working out at your gym and wanted to discontinue payments, Ashbourne would request immediate payment of the full membership sum. Plus, if you refused to pay this the company reportedly upped the pressure by threatening to damage your credit rating.
The hearing is now closed, with Mr Justice Kitchin ruling that Ashbourne’s practices were ‘designed and calculated to take advantage of the naivety and inexperience of the average consumer using gym clubs at the lower end of the market’.
The judge added that minimum periods of over a year are ‘a trap into which the average consumer is likely to fall’, and that it was unfair to demand payment even if they had a genuine dispute about the quality of the gym. OFT director Jason Freeman commented on the ruling:
‘Unfair terms that unreasonably bind consumers into long contracts they cannot leave, and heavy-handed collection techniques, have no place in businesses’ dealings with consumers.’
Exercise your right to cancel
Although Ashbourne’s managing director John Clayton-Wright was keen to point out that the contracts under examination were out of date, could this ruling be a sign that gym contracts might change?
Convo commenter Chris thinks you should avoid being tied into gym contracts altogether:
‘Go to [a gym] run by a local council – reasonable rates and no tie ins or weird exit fees. You know it makes sense.’
This is the advice I now take – I pay for my membership on a monthly basis, meaning I’m not locked into a long contract and can leave whenever I’m feeling lazy. But not everyone’s this lucky – Fi Harasyn (@ififh) told us on Twitter that it’s ‘increasingly hard to find gyms that won’t lock you into a 12 month contract.’
So, should it be easier to cancel a gym membership before your contract is up? Or if a gym-goer is hit by a hefty cancellation fee, do they only have themselves to blame for signing on the dotted line?
P.S. If you want advice on cancelling your gym contract, make sure to check out our guide.