One thing that really irks me about the fitness industry is the reputation we have of being con artists. Don’t get me wrong-there are dodgy as gyms and trainers out there, and if you have been the victim of one of these, then I’m genuinely sorry for your experience. We are not all like that. There are also plenty of us who are doing our best to restore a reputation that I think we deserve.
This post is to give you a heads up about gym contracts. One of the main things that I have dealt with is members wanting to cancel their membership, not being aware of their responsibilities or the fact that they have signed a legal contract and then them having a bad experience with a gym. I’m going to outline some tips that should help you when you are looking at signing a contract, and things you need to be aware of legally. For the record I don’t blame anyone for making mistakes and I don’t want to point fingers, I’m just trying to help everyone understand it all.
Remember when you walk in, you are not obliged to sign anything on that day, take your time and decide if that club is right for you. Have questions ready. Be prepared for the sales person to try and sell to you-that is their job remember? Also don’t fall for the ‘you need to sign now to get this deal’. 99% of the time if you go away for a day, you will get the same offer the next day. (I say 99% as some offers do genuinely have an expiry date).
Direct Debit Contracts:
What is this? It’s when you agree to have a certain amount debited from your nominated bank account or credit card for the services. There are generally two kinds, lock in and non lock in. Lock in contracts will have a minimum term required for you to complete, this can be anything from three months to 36 months. Non lock in generally won’t have a minimum term or if they do, it’s only three months or so.
- First of all for either contract to be considered complete it must have your credit card or bank details on it and your signature. Without one of these it is not a legal document. Don’t sign anything or give out your credit or bank details until you are 100% sure this is the club for you!!! Read every single term and condition and ask questions if you are not sure.
- Side note: DO NOT SIGN A BLANK CONTRACT AND LET THE SALES PERSON FILL IT IN LATER FOR YOU! Yes I’ve heard of this happening before and it amazes me
- Both have a 48 hour cooling off period-this in enforced by the Health and Fitness Act. BUT it must be handed to the club in writing, you cannot call up over the phone to give it in. If the club is closed, find a contact email address and send it in that way.
- Once that 48 hours is over, the contract is in place, and this is a binding contract! This is regardless of when your payments start. So even if you have one month free before payments start, once this 48 hours is over, the contract is in place. Should you default on payments you may be liable for excess fees and yes these can go to debt collectors and affect your credit rating.
- Cancellations within the minimum term are generally where we run into most problems. Most gym contracts will ask you to pay a cancellation fee and it is up to them how much they charge and the conditions on that fee. Keep in mind your reasons for cancelling won’t have an affect on the fee and some gyms will only let you cancel in the minimum term if you are moving away-and that has to be proven-and once that is proven you will still be required to pay the fee! Again with the fee it needs to be done in writing-and get a receipt for your own records.
- Cancellations after the minimum term is completed are a little easier. First of all, unless you specify otherwise when you sign the contract, your membership will generally continue after the minimum term is completed. The payments won’t just stop. If you only want to commit for the minimum requirement-then get it on the contract in writing! If you do not do this, then once the minimum term is completed, the cancellation notice required is 30 days. This is also part of the Health and Fitness Act, so it is a legal requirement. Again it needs to be in writing, you cannot call up over the phone and give it.
- If your payments default for any reason, then keep in mind you will be liable for extra fees from the gym. These fees should be written on the contract-if not ask about them! These fees will be on top of any personal bank fees you incur.
- When you sign a contract, the gym is legally required to give you an exact copy of that contract, make sure you get it!
Paid in Full (PIF) Memberships:
These are a little easier (well a lot actually). You pay upfront for a certain length of time at a gym. It can be anything from a week to 12 months.
- The 48 hour cooling off period still applies to PIF. So if you change your mind in that time you need to put it in writing and you will receive a refund.
- If you get half way through a 12 month PIF membership and decide you do not want it anymore, the gym are not obliged to refund you any time unused. Some may have transfer options available, so ask before you pay!
- Legally gyms are not allowed to sell PIF for any longer than 12 months. This is to protect you should the club close down. If someone offers you five years at a great rate-run away!!!!!!
I hope this has given you a little insight into your legal responsibilities but also your rights when it comes to gym contracts. If you have any questions please ask and I will do my best to answer them for you. Also if you have any tips then put them down as well!
BTW any laws I have referred to apply to Australia (that I know of) only, if you are any where else then please research your individual laws before you sign.