I occasionally get asked for advice on how to resolve gym membership problems, contracts and disputes. Gyms are now reopening after the coronavirus lockdown with limited facilities after being closed for a few months. This has shone a spotlight on consumer rights, with customers asking questions about how to deal with gym membership contract disputes and complaints.

Why is it so hard to cancel a gym membership?

People who lack motivation to go to the gym also tend to lack the motivation to jump through all the hoops and hurdles to cancel a gym membership. Gym membership firms are hardly going to make it easy for you – if they did, they wouldn’t make so much money from those who take out gym memberships and never use it.

How do I cancel my gym membership?

You can cancel a monthly gym membership plan with no notice period, penalties or cancellation fees. You simply need to put it in writing.

Most gyms have a clause that allows you to cancel a gym membership if they stop offering all the services offered in the contract.

Coronavirus may be an exceptional circumstance (and it is), but the outcome is the same. The contract has been frustrated under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the services you have paid for have not been delivered.

How do you write a letter to cancel a gym membership?

You simply need to put a letter to cancel a gym membership in writing. The following examples can be used.

Please consider this letter as a formal request to cancel my gym membership by the end of this month / with immediate effect. number (xx). My reason to cancel is because / due to (reason). 

 

Please consider this letter as a formal cancellation notice for my gym membership. The reason for this is because my medical condition has resulted in having to curtail my physical activities. I will not be able to use the gym for the foreseeable future. 

 

Please cancel my membership and confirm it in writing. My membership number is (x). If you need anything else to process this request, just let me know. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. 

 

I regret to inform you that I wish to discontinue my gym membership. My reason for this is because I am relocating within the next few weeks so I will not be needing it any more. I was happy with your facilities and had no complaints at all. I am happy to provide you with a testimonial to that effect if you would like me to.

I understand from the Terms and Conditions that I need to provide you with 1 months’ notice / entitled to a refund for the remaining period.

I trust that this letter will suffice. If not, please let me know what else I need to do.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Can a gym refuse to cancel membership?

It depends on the Terms and Conditions you have signed and agreed to on the contract.

Some gyms allow you to cancel if you give one month’s notice, but you need to check the terms and conditions to see what the notice period is. There may be a minimum term contract that you have signed and agreed to.

Coronavirus is an exceptional circumstance – it can be said that the contract has been frustrated and services bought and paid for have not been delivered under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Ways to cancel a gym membership without a penalty

If a gym closes or removes facilities which are a significant part of what they offer in the contract.

Coronavirus is an exceptional circumstance that can be used in this scenario. For example, a gym which has not been able to open for a few months and can only offer limited facilities when it reopens. It can be argued that the contract has been frustrated and unfulfilled.

Unforeseen circumstances – a long-term illness that prohibits you from doing any physical exercise with gym equipment.

Significant price rises within the contract period. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 has a fairness test – it can be argued that this is unfair and not enforceable.

Early termination fees, unnecessarily long contracts, automatic renewals or excessive penalties are considered unfair under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

What happens if I cancel my gym Direct Debit?

You will continue to own the gym money. Unpaid fees can be recovered and it will affect your credit score. Any County Court Judgements (CCJs) will impair your credit rating for years to come. Cancelling a gym Direct Debit does nothing – you are still tied in to the contract.

If you fail to pay your gym membership fees, your gym can send your account to collections. This will leave a major negative mark on your credit report. Unpaid membership fees can ruin your credit score.

Can cancelling a gym membership affect your credit?

If you simply cancel a Direct Debit and refuse to pay fees owed, a gym can pursue you for unpaid fees and send your account to collections. These debt management firms take responsibility for recovering unpaid fees and will take Court action if necessary. This can result in a County Court Judgement (CCJ) being made and will have a major impact on your credit score. A CCJ on your credit file will prevent you from getting loans and mortgages.

If you cancel a gym membership amicably and in writing with confirmation that it has been terminated, you will not be adversely affected.

You may wish to check your credit record in due course via Experian or Equifax.

Unfair contract terms

You cannot be bound by terms and conditions in a contract if a term is considered unfair.

Excessive cancellation fees, price changes and changes in goods or services provided can be considered unfair terms and conditions.

Any significant change to the goods and services that you have bought and paid for can be considered an unfair contract term.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 has a fairness test. If terms and conditions tilt the balance unfairly in favour of a trader, it is considered unfair and unenforceable. This can render a contract null and void.

Coronavirus as an exceptional circumstance can be used in this scenario. For example, a gym which has not been able to open for a few months and can only offer limited facilities when it reopens. It can be argued that the contract has been frustrated and unfulfilled.

How to challenge unfair contract terms

You need to follow the complaints process. Unfortunately, there is not an Ombudsman but the Small Claims Court can be used as a last resort.

Write to the gym pointing to the term in the contract that you consider is unfair, explain why and how it cannot be enforced.

Escalate your complaint if necessary.

Make a claim through the Small Claims Court as a last resort. You will need to follow the pre-action protocol and give the trader one final chance to resolve your dispute before proceeding with Court action.

Complain to the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA)

The CMA is a regulatory body that works to protect consumers and take action against firms who make it difficult to get refunds including unfair terms and monopolies.

You can also report a firm to your local Trading Standards.

Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974

If you have paid more than £100 for gym membership in advance with a credit card, you can raise a dispute with your credit card provider. The credit card provider is jointly liable under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and can act on your behalf to contest a dispute and get a refund for you.

This query was in connection with a lapsed gym membership.

QUESTION

“A few years back my daughter was down in Bournemouth University, she took on gym membership for a 1 year contract, she then decided to pack up Uni as she could not afford to live down there and move back home to Cannock.

Long story short – she cancelled gym but stupidly did not give 1 month’s notice. This was 2014 – now she has a debt collection on to her. I’m trying to get her to come to some sort of arrangement with them, they’ve threatened Court action and with what she owed and addons the debt is now around £170. Are you able to advise anything?”

MY RESPONSE

It appears that his daughter’s debt has been sold on and no doubt they will be trying heavy handed tactics to get her to pay up.

My advice in these circumstances is;

1. Send a letter by recorded delivery asking for proof that they own the debt and if so, is it a credit agreement? Also state that you have it in writing that you cancelled the gym membership and advised the gym of a change of address. There is clearly a misunderstanding that they need to address and you reserve the right to take Court action if you are subject to any further harassment.

2. Lodge a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading (‘OFT’) at enquiries@oft.gsi.gov.uk and advise the debt collection firm that you have taken this course of action.

3. Await their response.

4. Get a copy of her credit file from Experian to see what has been recorded (if anything) so you can see where the footprints and paper trail is.

They could take this to Court hence why you need to fire a robust response and lodge a complaint to try and nail it before it starts sprouting arms and legs (and racking up increased costs).

CONCLUSION

You need to get debt collectors work for their money as they just expect you to fold on the first hurdle. You are within your rights to contest this and the Office of Fair Trading will have come across this before on many occasions, which adds weight to your stance. 

The more you throw at them from the start, the better the result.

Whilst it may have been a misunderstanding, it is hardly a shining example of great customer service and customers have various platforms such as Google Reviews, Trustpilot and Facebook to air them. Bad experiences travel much faster than good experiences and firms need to raise their game.

Have you had gym membership problems? If so, what was the outcome?

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