Business

Gym members given new cancellation rights by OFT

running machines
Image caption Gym members will be able to cancel contracts more easily, following an OFT investigation

More than a million gym members have been given new rights to cancel membership contracts, after a study by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Three of the UK's biggest gyms have agreed to allow their members to cancel their contracts early, should their circumstances change.

Until now many gyms have been notorious for locking people into lengthy contracts.

The three gyms involved are Bannatyne Fitness, David Lloyd and Fitness First.

The new rights will allow contracts to be cancelled if members can no longer physically get to the gym or if they can no longer afford to pay.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionDavid Stalker of trade body UK Active, says gym contracts need to be more customer friendly

This would allow a gym member to end a contract if they suffered an injury, or if they lost their job.

"We were concerned that contracts could unfairly lock people in if their circumstances changed, forcing them to continue paying even if they had lost their job," said Cavendish Elithorn, of the OFT.

Joining a gym can be expensive, with fees of £500 a year being typical.

Greater transparency

The three gym chains involved have also agreed not to describe memberships as being of "fixed duration", when they often roll over such memberships into another period.

The OFT says some customers were misled into thinking that a year's membership would end after 12 months, for example, whereas such contracts are often extended without the customer's explicit consent.

The companies have also agreed to be more transparent about membership periods and cancellation rights, and for such information to be provided at the time a customer signs up.

The three gym chains concerned, which have more than a million members between them, have all welcomed the changes.

Image caption Other gyms are now being investigated by the OFT

"Our contracts have never been greater than the 12 months maximum term, proposed by the OFT," said a spokesperson for Bannatyne's.

David Lloyd Leisure said it had simplified the ability for members to join with shorter or longer commitments, and allowed people to switch between the two.

Fitness First said it was going to offer members the option of joining for one year, four months or just one month.

The OFT closed its investigation into another gym company, Virgin Active, in April 2012 after finding no evidence it used unfair business practices. However, Virgin did agree with the OFT to make some changes to its membership policies, including the terms under which people could cancel policies if they lost their job.

The OFT is now continuing its investigation into other gyms in the UK, and will provide an update in the coming weeks.

Consumer advice

The OFT is also giving out advice to consumers who are considering taking out gym membership.

It says they should consider the terms of the contract carefully before signing up.

It advises people to shop around, and to find out what their options are if they subsequently have to cancel their membership.

The OFT also recently published a consumer alert, advising people of their rights when joining a gym.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites