/ Health

It’s crunch time for unfair gym contracts

Woman doing crunches in the gym

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.

Comments
Member

On another forum a member was reporting that they had cancelled their gym membership and had the cancellation confirmed but he forgot to cancel the standing order for the monthly charge.
2 years later he realised he had paid out >£1000 to the gym since cancellation.
Gym refused to refund saying it was his mistake and quoting following para in membership T&Cs:

“> c) Cancellation of fully flexible monthly membership
> iii. If we continue to recieve payment after your membership has been
> cancelled, we will accept this as your notification of your wish to
> continue your membership.”

This contract term seems purely designed as a trap for this situation !!

Member
Jacob says:
27 January 2012

How terrible! I had this happen as well, no money back on it either!!

Member

I’m no lawyer but is that actually legally enforceable? Typically, businesses have control of when and how much they take from direct debit, so if they continued taking it I’d be complaining to my bank.

Member

Now, that is an interesting case. I spoke to our senior solicitor Joanne Lezemore, who said:

‘It is highly likely that such a term will be deemed unfair pursuant to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations as, in essence, the company are trying to benefit from a mistake of an ex-member. At common law, one party would not be allowed to benefit from the mistake of another when it is clear that a mistake has been made.

‘The notice of cancellation shows the intent of the customer and trying to imply that such consent should be overridden in this way is an argument I would hope that no District Judge would accept.

‘I would actually advise the member to refer this company and the term to the Office of Fair Trading – although it won’t take an action on behalf of an individual, it can investigate and take action directly against the firm.’

It would be great if you could track down the person who had this problem Rarrar and point them in this direction! Thanks.

Member
Michelle says:
10 April 2016

This also happened to me at Life Style Fitness, my contract was cancelled but they were still trying to take the money from my account, they passed this onto a debt management company but fortunately I had kept all written communication with the gym that showed they had agreed cancellation, eventually this was resolved. I don’t understand why t can be legal to be tied into a yearly or two yearly contract, IF you are no longer using a facility such as the gym, why should you be forced to continue to pay?

Member

I think it’s ridiculous that Gyms tie you into such contracts. Mobile phone contracts are a different ball game as, although they are just as long, you can take it with you when you move. Gym memberships you often cannot – what if this chain doesn’t have a gym near you?

Personally I don’t think Gyms should be able to have gym contracts at all, it isn’t a service worth warranting one and only benefits the business in question.

Member

This is nothing new and OFT has recogised but allowed bad practice for far too long..

Several years ago I belonged to a local council gym that was outsourced. The contractor’s conditions said, in effect, that they could kill me without paying compensation but my estate would have to carry on paying the monthly fees!

The council said that it had no control over the terms.

It is time for OFT etc to start prosecuting this sort of thing in all cases as an unfair trade practice.

Member

Hi Guys

Money paid under mistake of fact may be recovered, as money had
and received to the use of the person paying it but
money paid under a mistake of law is not recoverable, except where
paid to an officer of the court OR in case of fraud.

A bit concerned abt the legally-binding effect of contractual terms
entered into.

Bring a claim under the small claims track in any event.

Good luck

Member
Paul says:
29 January 2012

I just cancelled my D/D as I came into financial problems, I did get many threating letters but nothing came of them. I just though I it did go to court I haven’t used the gyms services so why should I be forced to pay for something which hasn’t been received??