Many people sign up for gym memberships in January as they resolve to get back into shape after the excesses of the festive period.
But while committing to a membership may help you stick to your new healthy routine, it is important to know exactly what you are getting into before you hand over any cash, as many contracts are riddled with small-print clauses that lock you in for the long term.
If you want to cancel or make any changes to your membership before the introductory period is up, you may find it hard to do so. This can mean you are essentially trapped in an expensive contract with no means of escape.
This may be the case even if you have a genuine reason for no longer being able to attend the gym, such as getting ill or injured, losing your job, or having moved to a new area.
In addition, some contracts automatically renew without your permission – so you need to keep an eye out for this too.
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In 2013, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) looked in detail at rights to cancel a gym membership.
Following that investigation, the OFT ruled there should be extended rights for gym members to change their contracts if their circumstances change in way that makes attendance difficult or unaffordable.
This means gym members should now have the opportunity to cancel their membership should they no longer be able to use the facilities due to injury, or if they can no longer afford it due to job loss. Some gyms will also now allow members to cancel if they move house.
In addition, firms agreed to be clearer with customers about automatic contract renewals, and more upfront about cancellation rights.
Despite this enforced shake-up, it is still easy to get caught out, so you need to be on your guard.
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Check the T&Cs
Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you read the small print, as once you have signed a written contract, you will be bound by the terms of that agreement.
Check how long the contract is, and think carefully about whether you are happy to be tied in for a year, or whether you would be better suited to a rolling monthly contract or pay-as-you-go arrangement.
Find out whether you can cancel the contract early if your circumstances change. Gyms may allow you to cancel as long as you give one month’s notice – but you will need to check the small print. Also ask if you will have to pay a penalty for cancelling your membership early.
Find out if your contract will automatically be extended after the initial membership period – or whether you will be given a warning before the expiry date, along with the option to opt out at renewal time.
Enquire as to whether recompense is offered if lots of the equipment is broken or out of use.
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Keep an eye out for unfair terms
While the Ts and Cs will vary from one gym – or chain of gyms – to the next, it’s important to remember that gym memberships cannot be unfair. The key is to keep an eye out for unfair terms in your contract.
Contracts which tie you in for more than 12 months are likely to be considered unfair.
The same applies to a major change to services – such as significantly altered opening hours, or the closure of a swimming pool after signing up to a gym contract for use of that pool.
Big price increases and automatic contract renewals could also be deemed unfair.
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Do your homework
As part of your fact-finding mission, it’s worth doing a little research yourself.
You might, for example, want to visit the gym a few times before signing up to see how busy it is, and how easy it is to get access to the equipment and facilities you want to use – particularly if you can only get to the gym at peak times, such as evenings after work. Also see how easy it is to get a parking space.
If you’re still not sure what to do, ask friends, family and colleagues for feedback on the gym you planning to join – and also for their recommendations on alternatives.
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Make sure you are happy with the commitment
Once you have the answers to all your questions, you need to sit down and ask yourself a few questions – such as whether you have the time to go to the gym regularly enough to make your membership worth the cost, and whether you can afford the monthly payments. After all, over the space of a year, a monthly fee of £50 will add up to a hefty £600.
As an alternative, consider whether a cheaper council-run leisure centre may provide a better option for your needs. Then, if you do stick out the fitness regime, you could reward yourself with private gym membership at a later date.
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Making a complaint
If you believe any of the terms in your gym contract are unfair, you should first write to the gym, explaining why you think the term is unfair, and the amount of money you think you should get back.
If this doesn’t work, you can then escalate your complaint through the gym’s formal complaints process.
If you are still unsuccessful, you could take your complaint to the small claims court or try and get it resolved through a dispute resolution scheme.You can also report the matter to the Competition and Markets Authority
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