THREE leading gym chains have pledged to make it easier for people to cancel membership and make other improvements to members’ contracts after an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.
The agency investigated gyms after claims that they locked members into contracts and made it too difficult to get out in the event of a change of circumstances.
Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the OFT Goods and Consumer Group, said: “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.”
Bannatyne Fitness, David Lloyd and Fitness First have all agreed to make changes to their contracts to make it easier for members in the case of illness or redundancy.
Elithorn said: “We welcome these changes from Bannatyne, David Lloyd and Fitness First.
“Meanwhile, we are continuing our investigation into some other companies in the sector and will provide an update in the coming weeks.”
According to figures from Mintel, David Lloyd has 450,000 members across the UK, Fitness First has 336,000 and Bannatyne Fitness has 185,000. Mintel reported the average fee paid by each customer is £485 a year.
Under the agreement, the OFT said it had secured extended rights for members to cancel their contracts early if their circumstances changed in a way that made attending the gym difficult.
The companies have also agreed to stop describing membership as being of a fixed duration if the contract automatically continues on a rolling basis after the initial period expires.
They will also have to provide greater transparency about key membership features, including initial membership periods and cancellation rights, with these to be provided up front as part of the sales process.
A Which? spokesman said: “Before signing a gym contract, we always advise people to read the terms and conditions carefully as there could be clauses that keep you locked in for longer than you want and cost you extra.
“We want companies to be more transparent about their terms and conditions and make them concise, jargon-free and easy to understand.”
A spokesman for Bannatyne said: “We have fully co-operated with the OFT whole scale review of this issue. Bannatyne Health Clubs are uniformly operating under contracts that meet the OFT recommendations with regard to length of contracts and provisions relating to cancellation due to illness.”
A Fitness First spokesman said: “We have happily accepted all recommendations from the OFT to make contract terms more transparent, allowing more flexibility for our members. We have promised to go further by giving members the options of 12 month, four month or one month contracts depending on their needs.”
A spokesman for David Lloyd Leisure said: “Following extensive discussions with the OFT, David Lloyd Leisure introduced improvements to the flexibility of its contract terms and conditions from December 2012.”