Gym memberships are a great way to loose weight, build muscle and de-stress. However, in recent year’s gym contracts have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons which has resulted in statutory legal changes, Office of Fair Trading investigations into gym operators and the Citizens Advice Bureau spending hundreds of thousands campaigning against the previous statutory schemes.
Today’s gym companies offer more open contracts and better customer support. That said, there are still a few ‘cowboy’ operators out there and this article will help you understand the rights and responsibilities you are afforded by law. It should be noted that this does not constitute legal advice – Real Muscle Forum would ask any individual wishing to legally challenge their gym contract to contact a solicitor, to find your local lawyer contact the Law Society for further assistance.
First, to find a reputable gym you can contact your local authority whose leisure centre provision will offer services which are premised upon fair and safe contract minimums. If you want to use a private provider why not look at UKActive registered gyms. UK Active members are bound by a strict code of conduct which gives more consumer protection to their members.
Gym Contracts – The Basics
Gyms are infamous for locking customers into long-term one or two year contracts that are difficult to disengage from. This is because when you sign on the dotted line you are now bound by that legal ‘contract’. Your signature means you agree, wholeheartedly – whether your read them or not – with the terms and conditions of the gym membership. Here are some basic steps you can take to protect yourself. First thing’s first, read the contract! Look out for the following:
- Your consumer rights to cancel the agreement – do you have to pay a deposit? If so, when you cancel the membership are you granted a full or partial refund, do you have to pay the entirety of your contract if you cancel the contract early or are you allowed to pay 30 or 90 days notice?
- Monthly or Annual payments – The High Court slammed providers who forced annual upfront payments in a 2011 legal challenge. The High Court has stated that providers cannot charge more than 90 days in advance. This means that 3 months is the longest period you are required to pay-in-advance. However, most reputable gyms offer monthly pre-pay services. This is the industry norm and the kind of payment system you should look out for.
- Look out for hidden charges – are there ‘service’ charges levied on your contract – these could be locker, additional services – like trainers – and other costs that you either don’t want or need. It should be noted that since 2010, the High Court has judged that UK gyms are not allowed to make unrestricted price rises. This means that the amount you signed-up for, excluding service charge increases, cannot be raised. This means that a £38 a month contract cannot be doubled or tripled at the whim of a gym manager.
- A minimum one year contract is necessary – the High Court ruled in 2011 that gyms in the UK cannot lock people into annual contracts because it is an unfair and illegal practice. Therefore, you should look out for monthly, quarterly or bi-annually membership schemes.
- Examine what the contract entitles you to – a great many individuals have thought they were signing up for a full gym and swim package but once the direct debits are flowing they have discovered that they have to pay ‘extra’ for line swimming or using other services. So make sure you check what your entitlements are? Also need to know that you are protected if the gym changes their operations – for example closes their pool down but requires you continuing paying. You are allowed to terminate your contract because the services the gym provided do not stand up to the contractual terms you and the gym originally entered into.
- Personal Injury – some gyms have been caught making clients sign contracts which claim the gym will not be liable for death or personal injury – this is illegal and your safety is guaranteed under the terms of the gym’s own public liability insurance. So ask to see their public liability insurance certificate – all gyms will have it framed in their reception area.
If you think the contract gives you fair consumer rights to cancel the contract early, has no hidden or incorrect fees and has the right entitlements to suit your needs and you want to join then if you are not pressured sign-up and enjoy – a lot of people can feel coerced into signing when they have a ‘fast-talking’ young salesman from the gym pressure selling them.
If you want, and you have the right, take a breather ask them for the details on paper and go home. This gives you the time to think about what you want and need from the membership. The next day or even week you can return and sign the contract knowing you like the gym, the contract is fair and more importantly it is something you truly want to undertake.
Life is unpredictable at the best of times and your gym membership should mirror this mantra. Therefore, you need to know your rights when changes in your life – from relocation to redundancy – may force you to cancel you gym membership. Gym’s often tie customers into minimum length contract terms. This means that you are required to pay a large cancellation fee. Remember that your £38 a month fee, whilst a small monthly amount, in terms of a 90 day or three month cancellation period suddenly becomes £114. Therefore you need to understand your contract and you rights.
If you become ill or are facing serious debt problems your gym provider doesn’t have to give you the right to cancel without paying a cancellation fee. Therefore, you need to factor in this eventually as you could be liable to pay a large amount of money that you can ill afford to pay – if you are currently in this situation why not visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau or contact the National Debtline for assistance.
There are, of course, events that mean you are allowed to cancel without paying anything to the gym. For example, if the gym’s service is poor then they have failed their end of the agreement and as such you have the right to cancel without a penalty and you might even be entitled to a full or partial refund. If your contract terms are unfair and illegal then you have a right to terminate the agreement without a penalty.
This is the case if your gym provider automatically renews your membership without confirming with you first. Your right to cancel also applies to illegal gym rules which claim membership cancellation is only official in written form. There are other elements too like if you contract is not in plain English (for example, with Latin terms) you can cancel because the contract, by law, should be in easy to understand English.
Your rights and responsibilities – explained
You have the legal protection and rights of not being ‘locked’ into long term contracts, being kept safe by public liability insurance and using a gym that follows government and industry guidelines. However, you as a user need to understand that gym membership is about responsibilities as much as rights. You are signing up for a monthly contract. Remember that your minimum term will cost a lot more than your monthly payment.
If the gym is in the wrong then you have the right to cancel and receive a refund. However, if you are to blame then the gym has the right to charge you accordingly. So you need to consider the rights and responsibilities equally when considering undertaking a gym membership. You need to understand what you want out of a gym – what are your goals? Along with understanding what the financial costs to you will be, both in the short, medium and long-terms? Gym guidelines set out by UKActive and other industry figures have helped stem the tide of bad gym PR. Today’s gym’s are not about fleecing you out of your cash. They are run by professionals who want to help people get fitter and healthier.
That being said, there are always anomalies and by using this article you can find out the minimum legal requirements about contract length, payment and cancellation to better identify your providers status. If the gym you want to join claims you have to sign-up for twelve months and pay in advance, or claims there is no insurance or that your fees can rise at any time then you can take your business elsewhere as you’ll know that that is illegal.
These cowboys are not the norm – the big players like Virgin, Bannatynes or Fitness First or the local authority providers along with independents all use UKActive or industry guidelines to make sure the customer has protection however this is premised upon the notion that the gym user understands that they also have responsibilities. It’s a two—way relationship and by understanding your rights and responsibilities it can help you engage positively with your gym provider and build a stronger and long-lasting relationship that will help you achieve your fitness goals.