Anyone planning to fulfil their new year’s resolution by joining a gym should check what they are signing up for. Lengthy gym contracts with a raft of complex terms and conditions have been the bane of many consumers’ lives.
Both the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Citizen’s Advice have issued guidelines about what to watch out for in gym contracts.
The OFT advises people to ask the following four questions:
1. How long is the contract? Consider whether you are sure you want to sign up for a year, or whether a rolling monthly contract or pay-as-you go would be more suitable.
2. Can you cancel early if your circumstances alter or if you change your mind? Some gym providers allow you to cancel or put the contract on hold under certain circumstances, such as if you are injured and unable to use the facilities, or if you lose your job.
3. Will the contract be automatically extended after the initial membership period? Most gym contracts automatically continue. Make a note of the date by which you should inform the gym and ask for some form of proof that the gym has received your cancellation notice.
4. Do you have the time to go to the gym and can you afford the monthly payments? Make sure you understand the commitment you are signing up for.
It is always worth trying to negotiate your contract with the gym chain if you are not happy with the price or the terms. “If the contract commits you for 24 months, there is no harm in crossing that out and altering that to 12 months and negotiating from there,” says Tappenden.
However, most gyms charge less the longer the contract so you might miss out on a discount. In any case, it is better to try to haggle towards the end of a month, when sales staff are keen to meet targets, and outside of the busy January period.
Many gym chains now offer short-term contracts or “trial” contracts of a month or more, so take advantage of these if you are not sure about your longer-term commitments.
Some of the most tempting special offers are available at this time of the year, but be wary of taking a couple of months’ free membership only to commit yourself to a further 18 months.
What are the alternatives to a traditional gym chain? No-contract and no-frills gyms are growing in number and taking business from the traditional chains. You are unlikely to see fluffy towels and saunas in many of these chains, but they typically cost less and are easier to leave than traditional chains. Alternatively, you could ditch the gym and join a running club, sign up a regular fitness class, or buy an exercise DVD.
Guardian News and Media 2013