Know your rights when it comes to your gym contract

gym contractMany of us would have prioritised our health and fitness in our New Year’s resolutions, which may have included joining a gym.

But before you signed on the dotted line of your gym contract, did you make sure you were familiar with the terms and conditions? It’s about that time of year that you might be suffering from buyer’s remorse or find that you’re not using the gym that often and want to cancel.

Gavin Cohn, managing director of boutique gym Wellness In Motion advises that there could be joining, admin, card replacement, guest visitor or early cancellation fees associated with your gym membership. ‟I have even heard of a competitor charging a yearly maintenance fee in January. Check your debit order to ensure the same amount goes off monthly,” he says.

According to the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CSGO), 89 complaints were made against various gyms in 2016. “The majority of complaints received related to requests for cancellation. We also received a few complaints with regards to the failure to disclose contract terms or unfair contract terms. There were also complaints regarding the penalties charged or where people were being overcharged,” reveals a CGSO spokesperson.

Your legal rights

So how does the law protect you? The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) affords you the right to cancel if you change your mind early. “Section 14 permits you to escape a fixed-term contract without penalty by giving 20 business days’ written notice, but the consumer remains liable to the supplier for any amounts owed in terms of that agreement up to the date of cancellation, subject to a cancellation penalty, with respect to any goods supplied, services provided, or discounts granted to the consumer in contemplation of the agreement enduring for its intended fixed term, for example, a free kit bag on joining, trainer discounts, etc,” says Advocate Neville Melville, the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud.

The cancellation penalty must be reasonable too. “So for example, if a consumer cancels the agreement in month 22, a reasonable penalty would be different from a situation where the consumer cancels in month two. This may be a couple of months’ worth of fees or a different penalty.  There is no set penalty in the CPA and this must be determined by the supplier. If the consumer feels that the penalty is unreasonable they should take this up with the supplier,” explains Rosalind Lake, a director at global law firm Norton Rose, who specialises in competition and consumer law.

When it comes to affordability, Cohn advises consumers to choose payment plans to suit them. An open-ended membership may mean a higher monthly rate but there’s no fixed-term requirement. A 12 or 24-month contract may be cheaper per month, but harder to get out of. “A client should also put the cancellation request in writing and submit it to the correct party to ensure that the cancellation is effected, while also ensuring they have gone through the cancellation terms of the agreement,” adds Cohn.

Choose your battles

If you are dissatisfied with the service and don’t want to use the CPA, then you have to rely on the law of contract and the terms of the gym contract. But this means you could have a long fight on your hands, which could ultimately end up in the small claims courts.

Lake adds: “Consumers must always try and resolve their complaints with the supplier directly and should escalate to senior management if they are treated poorly.  If this doesn’t work, the consumer should lodge a complaint with the consumer affairs division in their province, the National Consumer Commission or possibly the CGSO. Keep written records of interactions with suppliers and persevere. These things always take longer to resolve than you expect.”

This article first appeared in City Press.