Be fighting fit against unfair gym membership conditions

A CHOICE undercover survey of gyms has found while the industry is efficient at signing up members it can be far less vigilant in explaining the prices, contract and cancellation terms.

Two shadow shoppers made a total of 18 visits to nine different gyms in different areas of Sydney posing as potential customers.

In too many cases they found emotive sales techniques, complicated contracts and unclear pricing structures.

The survey followed complaints CHOICE had received about the aggressive sales tactics used by gyms to recruit new members and difficulties in cancelling the monthly direct debits when ending 12-month memberships.

The gyms included the dominant player Fitness First; the women-only Contours, Fernwood and Curves; and the new entrant, Virgin Active, which has pay-as-you-go and flexible contracts.

“The best protection you can have against pressure sales tactics is to be aware of your rights. Would-be gym members shouldn’t sign up before they understand the terms and conditions,” said CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

By far the most common complaints are about the tortuous exit rules gyms can impose, often insisting members attend in person to explain why they want to “quit”.

CHOICE believes consumers shouldn’t have to jump through outlandish hoops just to cancel a membership they should have every right to terminate over the phone.

The largest chain Fitness First told CHOICE they changed their rules early in 2008 to allow cancellations over the phone so long as there was confirmation in writing.

But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence the policy is not universally enforced across the firm’s 89 outlets and 360,000 members.

CHOICE has produced a downloadable form letter to help people get out of tricky gym memberships after the initial contract period. It provides vital tips to help consumers gracefully quit the gym without losing your shirt.

New federal unfair contracts legislation due to be in place in 2010 may help beat harsh cancellation clauses. But CHOICE says it’s unlikely new laws will stop all unfair practices which prey on consumers’ ignorance of their rights.

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CHOICE reveals the pressure tactics gyms use to lock you into their contracts.

29 Apr 2009 | It's a common scenario: you decide it's time to do something about your health and fitness and head to the nearest gym, keen to change some bad habits.


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