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How to avoid being ripped off when joining a gym

Joanna Faith
Written By:
Joanna Faith

The start of a new year often brings promises of getting fit – but if you’re joining a gym, make sure you get what you pay for.

Gym membership costs vary hugely. Nowadays you can become a member of a no-frills facility for as little as a tenner a month, but the more luxurious health clubs could set you back hundreds.

Whichever option you choose, it’s important to be fully clued up on what you’re getting for your money and to understand your rights if you want to cancel your contract.

In the 12 months to the end of November 2018, Citizens Advice said it dealt with an average of 241 cases each month relating to gyms, health clubs and fitness studios – up from 197 the previous year.

Nearly one in five of these cases were about substandard services. These included gyms being closed for long periods of time, classes being shorter than advertised, people struggling to book prepaid personal training sessions and poor-quality facilities – including a fitness studio with no hot showers.

One in 10 cases related to terms and conditions with 16% complaining about misleading claims in the small print such as being promised bespoke exercise plans which never happened.

The charity also saw 46,000 people visit its ‘cancelling a gym membership’.

In one case it dealt with, a man called Citizens Advice for help getting out of a 12 month contract after he was unable to use the gym as expected. It was so oversubscribed he had to queue to use equipment and faced long waits in the changing rooms as there weren’t enough showers.

Another woman turned to the charity after signing up to her local health club on the promise it was going to be fully refurbished, but the improvements were never made.

Kate Hobson, consumer expert at Citizens Advice, said: “At this time of year we’re bombarded with offers for health and fitness memberships, which can ask for a lot of money or commitment up front.

“It’s really important to do your homework before you sign up to any gym, health club or fitness studio. Make sure you know how long you’re committing for, how much it will cost you, and think about how often you’ll need to use it for it to make sense on your budget.”

To help gym-goers, the charity has put together some top tips:

  • Save the evidence– keep a copy of any adverts or special offers that attract you to that particular gym. Make sure you’re promised these features in writing, either in your contract or in an email.
  • Know what you’ve signed up for– read the contract so you fully understand what you’re committing to, how long for, and whether you can leave before the end of the contract.
  • Check it’s fair– make sure the contract is reasonable, for example that it’s not tying you in for a very long time and that there are options to pause your membership or switch locations if you move away, lose your job or can’t train because of injury.
  • Know your cancellation rights– some gyms might offer a ‘cooling off’ period if you change your mind within 14 days of signing up. However if the membership doesn’t work for you or doesn’t offer what you expect many will charge you an exit fee if you want to leave before the minimum term is up.
  • Make a complaint– if your gym doesn’t meet your expectations but it won’t allow you to cancel, make a complaint to the company in writing. Explain why you think it is unreasonable that you’re not able to leave. If you’re still having problems, contact Citizens Advice.
  • Make sure it’s worth it – consider how often you will go, and then work out your price per visit. If you’re going once a week or less, pay-as-you-go or individual classes may be cheaper and won’t tie you into a contract.