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It’s a rather depressing thought that, according to people who know these things, it takes an hour long aerobics class to burn off the calories from a slice of your average Victoria sponge cake.
Despite this, January will once again see swathes of ‘hardy’ Brits lumbering along to their local gym with a brand new membership in their clutches, determined to battle that bulge and become the buffed Adonis of their dreams.
It’s not surprising that with over 7000 gyms and an overall membership approaching ten million* (that’s one in seven of us), the UK fitness industry is estimated to be worth just under £5bn. Nevertheless, for the gyms themselves, this is still a key time of the year as clubs are estimated to lose around 50% of their members over the course of 12 months as cheaper forms of exercise (or the sofa and a boxset) eventually beckon.
Of course, gyms are undoubtedly eagerly prepared for this New Year’s resolution bonanza that sees millions of people rush to sign expensive gym membership contracts. But how fair are these contracts and can you terminate them if your situation changes?
Unfortunately, the contracts these new gym members sign can be packed with incomprehensible language, long notice periods, and even the odd unfair term. So what happens when those New Year resolutions go out the window or your circumstances change? Just what are a gym member’s rights to terminate their contract? Under what circumstances does a gym member have a case for arguing that their membership should end?
Here are a few key points…
If the gym closes or removes a facility which formed a significant part of its offering – for example, a swimming pool or steam room – this could be construed as a breach of contract by the gym. This gives you grounds to argue for a reduction in fees or contract termination.
Change in circumstances
If you have a fixed term membership, e.g. for 12 months, but your circumstances change in an unforeseeable way – a long-term illness, losing your job or having to move – you could have grounds for immediate cancellation. This is because the courts in England and Wales have decided that some minimum terms of memberships are unfair, particularly where termination is prevented despite the consumer facing unforeseen circumstances.
An increase in your gym membership fee could result in a breach of contract, but it depends on the wording of your membership contract. If the wording in the contract that entitles them to increase the fee was not prominent and clearly worded – or if the price rise is large enough to show that it represents a significant departure from the original basis of the membership contract – then you may have a right to terminate your membership.
If you have already signed a gym membership contract and on review believe that one or more of its terms could be unfair, you still have rights. In particular, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 means that any contract entered into after 1 October 2015 is subject to a test of fairness. If a term of the contract or the entire contract is found to be unfair it will not be binding on you. An unnecessarily long contract, unreasonable early termination fees, automatic renewals or punitive penalties may all be considered to be unfair under the Act.
The key with gym contracts is to read them carefully and only sign if you’re happy with them. If a specific clause seems unfair or inappropriate, ask the gym to remove it from your contract before you sign.
If you do find that you need to terminate the contract early, check the contract to see if it covers your circumstances. Does it, for example, specify what happens if you are ill or lose your job? If it does not, then you have good grounds for a discussion with your gym to try to reach an agreement.
Louise Newbould-Walton is a Solicitor at DAS Law
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.
* 2018 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report