Are gym contracts stacked against you if you want to cancel? The OFT is threatening to crack down on gyms after complaints that contracts unfairly lock customers in.
A story about how a couple tried to cancel an LA Fitness contract caught the attention of gym members across the country last week. Published in the Guardian’s consumer champions section, the story of the seven months pregnant Hannah and her attempt to cancel her two-year gym contract struck a chord.
Her husband had recently lost his job, leaving the couple on benefits. To top it all, the sale of their house fell through, meaning they were at risk of being made homeless. Paying to keep fit wasn’t really at the top of their priorities.
Despite the couple and the Guardian arguing on legal and compassionate grounds, it took six weeks for LA Fitness to agree to take six months off the 15 months left on their contract. This still left them with £360 to pay.
After Guardian readers offered to pay the rest of Hannah’s fees, and started cancelling their own LA Fitness memberships, that the gym caved in. In a statement, LA Fitness said:
‘We appreciate that their circumstances have changed dramatically since they first signed with us, and on this occasion we will waiver any further membership fees with immediate effect.’
Can the OFT ‘work out’ how to fix gym contracts?
Phew. That’s a lot of effort to get out of a gym contract, especially when the couple so clearly couldn’t afford it. But they’re not the only ones – the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has received a massive 1,500 complaints about gym contracts in the four months to December 2011.
Yes, I know, we’re the ones who signed on the dotted line, but it seems that we might have good reason to say that some gym contracts are unfair. When the Guardian asked Which? lawyers about Hannah’s particular case, they pointed to last year’s ruling against Ashbourne Management Services, a company that draws up gym contracts.
Ashbourne repeatedly said that gym goers couldn’t cancel their contracts, but judge Mr Justice Kitchin concluded that in contracts over 12 months, gym goers should be able to give 30 days notice (and a moderate sum of compensation) to cancel.
This ruling only applied to Ashbourne contracts, but the OFT has said it’s going to start clamping down on the rest of the gym industry, where long-term contracts appear to be unfairly weighed against consumers.
Stuck on the gym contract treadmill?
My own situation is too embarrassing to go in to in detail, but I’ll just say that I’m still paying a freeze fee on a legacy gym membership. I too blame the difficulty of getting out of the two-year contract I signed up to, which comes with a hefty cancellation fee.
In the end I need to pull myself together, state my case, and stop those direct debits. If I was able to give 30 days notice of cancellation and pay a modest fee I’d be much happier, and in turn I’d be more likely to recommend that gym chain to a friend. At the moment, I’d warn them off and send them to a cheap council gym where it’s more common to pay month by month.