Posted on Dec 31, 2009 by Administrator
The National Consumer Council of Ireland
has advised those joining gyms or leisure centres in the new year to check terms and conditions before they join.
“In 2009, the National Consumer Agency received over 400 queries / complaints on gym related issues. A significant number of these were as a result of consumers not having read or fully understood the conditions of their membership agreements." Said Ms. Ann Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of the National Consumer Agency.
“Consumers should be vigilant when signing up for gym membership and should take time to consider all aspects of the contract. Despite our best intentions in our new year's resolutions, our enthusiasm for going to the gym may ease off as the year progresses. Therefore, it is important that potential members are aware of the termination clauses before committing to a contract,” added Ms Fitzgerald.
Ms. Fitzgerald emphasised how important it is for consumers to be aware that cancelling direct debits did not mean that they have cancelled their contracts. She indicated that the gym operator would be within their legal rights to follow up on non- payments until such time as the contract is properly terminated. “Consumers should clarify any queries or concerns with the operator in the event that they wish to end their contract with the gym.”
Since 2007, the National Consumer Agency has agreed revised terms and conditions with some of the largest leisure and fitness clubs in the country. Also following consultation with the sector’s representative bodies, the Agency published guidelines for the sector on the drawing up of fairer and clearer contract terms. These guidelines were published in tandem with a voluntary seven-point best practice code for the sector.
She also urged consumers who are considering joining a leisure club or gym, to seek out the best value by asking plenty of questions and not be unduly influenced by special offers and deals. Potential members should enquire as to whether short term / trial memberships are available; is there a ‘pay per visit’ option; clarify what is included in the membership fee; are there any additional costs; is the contract automatically renewed; what notice of cancellation is required.
Tips for Consumers Joining a Gym or Fitness Club
Always Remember – the membership form that you sign is a legally binding document and its effects will last long after you have worn in those new trainers. The following is an indication of what to watch out for:
1. Can I visit a gym before becoming a member?
Some gyms may offer free trials or pay-per-visit membership. Ask the gym if you could get a free “try out” before deciding on whether to join. Take the opportunity to speak to existing members and find out if they are satisfied with the service the club provides.
2. What is included in the membership fee?
You should note that joining a gym often includes an up front once off “joining up fee” in addition to the regular membership fee.
Some gyms may advertise special incentives such as “first-time special offers” such as a reduced joining fee. Remember, monthly subscriptions may have to be paid on top of the special offers.
3. How do I pay for my gym membership?
The types of payments may vary from gym to gym. Some gyms may require payment in advance in respect of a year’s membership, (“up front annual subscription fee”).
Others may provide the option of paying by direct debit/credit cards instalment, or A combination of both options (up front payment or monthly subscription) may be available. In all cases
- calculate how much each option will cost you,
- read the terms and conditions with particular reference to any penalties for default of payment, and
- satisfy yourself that the payment option you choose is best suited to your needs.
Remember if you are paying by installments your bank/credit card statement is similar to a receipt; so check it.
4. How can I work out the cost of joining a gym?
Draw up a budget so that you will know exactly how much the cost of using the gym over a 12-month period will cost you. Make a list of all your out of pocked expenses.
The following items should be included in your budget:
- the cost of the joining up fee,
- annual subscription fee (up front annual subscription or monthly instalment fee),
- fees for any special exercise or fitness plans, and
- any additional extras if applicable e.g. cost of parking, undergoing a fitness assessment or the cost of using crèche facilities.
5. How long is the contract for?
You need to be aware that if you sign a contract to join a gym (for say a “minimum period of 12 months”), you are most likely to be committed to paying for a year’s membership. If this is the case, you may not be able to cancel the contract. This can be the case, even if you pay by instalments or by direct debit. Once you have signed the contract you are legally committed to paying for the minimum duration. In cases where the membership subscription has been made in advance (“up front payment”) you may not get a refund/partial refund. While it is open to you to stop your direct debit at any time, you should be aware, that this would not remove your payment obligations under the contract.
Some gyms may operate a rollover or an automatic renewal clause. This means that if you fail to inform the gym in writing, that you do not intend to renew your membership, it will automatically continue. It is important to be clear as to the duration of the contract and whether notice of cancellation is required. Think carefully before you sign up.
6. Do I have to give notice to cancel?
Some gyms may require notice in writing from members who want to cancel their membership. The notice period could range from a month to 3 months.
If you fail to give the required notice, gyms may demand payment in lieu of the cancellation period. Make sure you know what are the cancellation notice period requirements.
Example of a cancellation clause in a gym contract:
“ Following the ‘initial minimum membership period’ membership shall automatically continue on a monthly basis. Should a member wish to terminate their contract after the ‘initial minimum membership period’ they must fill in a cancellation request form and a minimum of 60 days notice and 2 monthly direct debit payments are required”.
In simple terms, this means you will have to give the gym two months notice in writing before the minimum 12-month contract expires.
If you are uncertain about your commitment to a minimum period of “12 months” you should ask the gym if it operates a short-term contract facility”.
7. What action can a gym take if I miss a payment?
Approaches may vary from club to club. Consumers should be aware that cancelling a direct debit linked to a minimum membership period, does not cancel any debt that may exist between the gym and the consumer. Remember gyms may be within their rights to follow up on missed payments, as the signed contract agreement is a legally binding document.
When you cancel a gym membership and if you have been paying by monthly instalments, you should check you bank/credit card statements to ensure that subscriptions have ceased. Remember it is your responsibility to check your statements.
8. Understanding the wording of the membership agreement
Agreements should be clear. You should not need legal advice to understand the terms and conditions. Take time to read the contract through, so that you fully understand what the club expects of you and what you can expect of the club. If you do not understand any of the conditions, or if the meaning of the term is unclear, ask questions and get your answers before signing. That way you will be more likely to not only get fit but also get a fair deal!
9. What if Gyms say they are not liable for injury claims
Under the provisions of the European Communities (Unfair Terms in Consumer
Contracts) Regulations 1995, a clause is considered potentially unfair if it states that the supplier is not responsible for death or personal injury to the consumer “resulting from an act or omission of that supplier”.
You should bring this to the attention of the gym owner/manager.
If you have a disagreement with the gym in relation to the services, you should first try and resolve the matter by directly approaching the gym owner/manager. It is advisable to keep copies of all correspondence.
In the event that the dispute cannot be resolved, it is open to you, to refer the issue to the Small Claims Court at www.courts.ie
. Claims involving amounts up to €2,000 may be processed through this procedure at a cost of €15.
Take the opportunity to speak to existing members and find out if they are satisfied with the service the club provides. Be aware of potentially unfair terms such as those set out above and satisfy yourself that the agreement meets your requirements.
Ask questions, and get your answers before signing up and parting with money. That way you’ll be more likely to not only get fit but also get a fair deal!
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