16:47 23 March 2013
Three of the UK's biggest gyms have agreed to make changes to their contracts to make it easier for people to cancel their membership, following an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
The three gyms in question - Bannatyne Fitness, David Lloyd Leisure and Fitness First - have altered their contracts after criticisms that they were making it difficult for people to escape their gym memberships, even if it were no longer practical or possible for them to be members due to injury or redundancy.
Following the OFT intervention, members of these gyms can cancel membership part-way through a contract should a change to their personal circumstances mean that they can no longer attend.
Fit for purpose?
The OFT investigation follows a four-day, High Court hearing in 2011 between Ashbourne Management Services, a company that pens membership agreements for gyms and also collects payments, and the OFT.
The judge ruled that a contract was unfair if it ran for more than 12 months - Ashbourne often issued contracts with lasted up to three years - and that the firm was also acting unfairly in not allowing consumers to cancel within 30 days, subject to a modest compensation fee.
The OFT subsequently made it clear that the ruling would have wider implications for the industry and that Bannatyne Fitness, David Lloyd Leisure and Fitness First are the first of many to be investigated. It will release updates in the coming weeks.
How the changes work out
In addition to allowing consumers to cancel their memberships should their circumstances change, gym groups have also been forced to reduce the notice period needed to cancel contracts that run for more than 12 months.
Furthermore, gym groups are no longer allowed to offer 'fixed-term' membership contracts if they automatically renew once the initial fixed term period is up - this was often done without customer's consent.
Other changes include making it easier for memberships to be taken out over shorter or longer periods while giving members the option to switch between the two. There will also be a review of how any debts are 'chased'.
What you should do before you sign up
If you're thinking of signing up for gym membership then you should consider whether you will remain committed and get your money's worth from your membership - if you're only likely to go once or even twice a week then you may be better of considering some alternatives, such as those outlined in the article by @Clare_Walsh - Get Fit on a Budget.
It's best to visit a number of gyms and compare the facilities to make sure that they fit your needs. When comparing, visit at the same time of day that you'll be using it so you can get an idea of how busy it is. Ask about discounts for off-peak usage and whether you'll have to pay extra for classes.
When you have decided upon a gym, find out the length of contracts on offer and decide whether you'd be best signing-up for a full year, on a rolling contract or even on a pay-as-you-train basis.
Check the options around cancelling the contract early as some gyms will allow you to cancel or freeze your contract should your circumstances change and you can no longer train. And make sure you have any cancellation agreements in writing.
You should also find out if the contract will be automatically extended once the initial membership period is up and make a note of how much notice you will need to give in this instance.
Above all else, if you do sign up for a gym membership, make sure you use it - you'll feel all the better for it!
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