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Unfair Charges: How I Took on a Gym Chain and Won!

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 24 Mar 2011 | comments*Discuss
Gym Chain La Fitness Contract Harassment

Gym chains are often in the headlines for their high charges and seemingly inescapable contracts, but back in 2007 I came across the phenomenon of rip off gym chains for myself.

Being a person well versed in consumer law, and having years of legal experience, I thought I was beyond being tricked into anything by unscrupulous traders. In fairness, the contract I took out with LA Fitness was run of the mill, and I expected not to be able to get out of it for a full twelve months. I did as most people do when they join a gym – worked out regularly for a while and then lost interest.

Cancelling the Contract

It was over a year after I joined that I moved house and changed jobs, so I no longer managed to get anywhere near the gym in question on a daily basis. Or even a weekly basis. I felt I was just throwing money away and wanted to join a smaller, cheaper gym closer to where I had moved, so I duly emailed the gym in question on their usual sales and enquiries email address, keeping a copy for my records. I cancelled with the requisite 30 days notice and thought that was the end of the matter.

For a few months, it was, indeed the end of the matter. LA Fitness didn’t contact me, I joined the local gym, and thought the contract had been cancelled. I had no letters from the gym chain, although there was a redirection set up for my mail so they could have written, or phoned me. Or responded to my email. However, I heard nothing until a phone call a few months later from a debt collection agency.

Debt Collection and Harassment

The first call was harmless enough. I explained to the lady in question that I had moved, and that I’d emailed my letter of cancellation some months earlier. I said that I had cancelled as per the terms of the contract, and therefore I had no intention of paying the months’ gym membership fees that the gym chain were trying to claim I now owed them. In all fairness, she was understanding and said she would put it on record and that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t. A couple of months later, two days before Christmas 2007, at eight in the evening, I was unlucky enough to be telephoned by the most aggressive and rude debt collector (well, to be fair, the only debt collector) I have ever spoken to. She informed me that I hadn’t cancelled the contract, I had to pay around six months fees , and that even though they didn’t have my address, they would find it and when they did I would owe them even more. I have to confess I was rather rude back to her, but I was so incensed at being harassed by the woman, I decided to write to LA Fitness, and the debt collection agency concerned.

The Letter to LA Fitness

I explained that I had held my membership with the gym chain for well over the required 12 months, and my cancellation was cancelled in writing via email with a month's notice.

I pointed out that an electronic mail legally suffices – quoting case law (Goodman v J. Eban Ltd (1954) )which said a ‘signature’ is "the affixing in some way, whether by writing with a pen and pencil or by otherwise impressing on a document, one’s name or 'signature' so as personally to authenticate the document".

I added that “the postal acceptance rules allow for communication of acceptance of a contract to be deemed effective from the date of posting of a letter. There is no specific case law around an e-mail but I suspect given the current status of e-mail contracts that proof of sending would be sufficient to prove that the contract was cancelled in accordance with your terms and conditions.”

An important part of the letter was that I made sure I said that I was formally disputing the amount owed.

Harassment and the Administration of Justice Act 1970

Just to make my point, I mentioned my legal background, and that I would not be intimidated by an aggressive debt collector, pointing out that the Administration of Justice Act 1970 states that... "who harasses another with demands for payment which by their frequency, or the manner or occasion of their making, or any accompanying threat or publicity are calculated to subject him or his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation is committing an offence under the act". I told them that I considered calling to threaten me, at eight in the evening, two days before Christmas, as harassment. I asked for an apology and an assurance that the matter would go no further.

I got neither – but I didn’t hear from them again.

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This has been useful reading. I am being harrassed by debt collectors acting for LA Fitness. Apparently I have entered into a contract with the gym for two years and they are asking me for £900. A month after my first gym session I relocated and my nearest gym is 60 miles away but they are still insisting that I pay the full amount or they will take me to court. I even got an automated voice call last Sunday basically saying "pay or else". Am at my wits end. I don't have £900 and I don't understand how they can do this when I can't even use the gym....
EMI - 15-Jun-11 @ 6:00 AM
I have been struggling with LA fitness since January when a male member of staff walked into the changing room unannounced with me pretty much naked standing there!They promised to respond to my complaint in 14 days, but I heard nothing for 2 months, at which time I got a response which said nothing about how the problem would be addressed (i.e. training, policy changes, etc).I wrote again asking that I would appreciate they respond more fully to my complaint and again waited 2 months.This time a manager at the club phoned to ask me to meet with her.Despite her kind manner, she has been equally disappointing by asking the male member of staff his personal opinion of me after agreeing to allow me to cancel my membership, not cancelling the agreement with her head office, so that I have had letters and phone calls from their credit department.Help!It doesn't seem right that I have no rights here!
Jessica - 2-Jun-11 @ 3:04 PM
I signed up for memebership for membership at a open day of a gym on the understanding that a branch would be opening near me so start dates were left out. The staff fraudulently activated my membership and started taking direct debits form me even though I never attended the gym. A branch of sadi gym did eventually open near me but I was told that the origional membership was not transferable. The gym was eventually closed down. The asset liquidated and bought by harlands finace who have harrassed me in the most horrendous way. Threatening me with jail and having me watched and sending me treatening letters! I understand that there is a new ruling that recognises that some gym contracts are unfair how do I get my case back in court for re appraisal?
wendiva - 1-Jun-11 @ 10:03 PM
Hi, Thanks for your post. It seems that the majority of companies are trying to bully their way through until the customers shows something special such as legal background. I wonder whether you could help me or better a friend of mine. We've searched the web but could not find a similar case published. Her contract is not up yet, so running for another few months. When she started they created a family package for her husband and the two children. A couple of months ago, her husband moved away due to separation and arranged with the gym to move his membership out of the contract, to another location and have the children attached to her contract without her knowledge. She believes her husband had cancelled the full contract until she got an invoice. She did not have the money for the membership so the gym offered that she only pays for the kids and not herself for a set period of time, i.e. now she is still pays but cannot use the gym. If she wants the kids to go she has to pay for herself as well. The contract is not up yet so it makes sense for it to continue. However, I have my doubts that the gym was entitle to attach the kids to her contract without having discussed this with her at all. Also their suggestion of only paying for the kids and not for herself is strange - it's good as not as much money is spent but it also means no-one can use their membership as the kids are so young they cannot go by themselves. Many thanks in advance
JustMe - 11-Apr-11 @ 12:21 PM
Thank you for your post my daughter is caught in a contract with gold gym and now I have at least an idea of what to do to help her out of this mess.
ARKIE - 7-Apr-11 @ 4:13 PM
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