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Make sure getting fit doesn’t leave your finances out of shape, warns Citizens Advice

29 December 2017

Charity reveals it helped people with nearly 3,500 problems around gyms, health clubs and fitness studios in the last year.

Citizens Advice is urging people to do their homework before signing up to any fitness memberships this new year, to make sure they don’t end up out of pocket.

As many people seek to turn over a healthy new leaf in 2018 the charity is sharing its top tips to make sure signing up for a gym or fitness membership doesn’t leave your finances out of shape.

In the 12 months to the end of November 2017 the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline advised people on an average of 197 cases every month around gyms, health clubs and fitness studios.

Over a third (35%) were complaints about substandard services such as a gym being closed for long periods of time, classes being shorter than advertised, people struggling to book prepaid personal training sessions and poor quality facilities - including a fitness studio with no hot showers.

1 in 7 (14%) complaints were about terms and conditions, including many cases where people felt they were unfairly held in a contract, and 1 in 10 (9%) about misleading claims - for instance where people were promised bespoke exercise plans which never materialised.

In addition to calls to the helpline, Citizens Advice offices across England and Wales  provided face-to-face advice to people to help them deal with over 1,000 problems with health, gym and sports club memberships. Over the same period, 60,000 people looked up the “Cancelling a gym membership” advice pages of the charity’s website.

One man called Citizens Advice for help getting out of a 12 month contract after he was unable to use the gym as expected. It was so oversubscribed he had to queue to use equipment and faced long waits in the changing rooms as there weren't enough showers.

Another woman turned to the charity after signing up to her local health club on the promise it was going to be fully refurbished - but the improvements were never made.

Citizens Advice is today sharing its top tips for people looking to spend money on getting fitter in the New Year:

  • Save the evidence - keep a copy of any adverts or special offers that attract you to that particular gym. Make sure that you are promised these features in writing, either in your contract or in an email.

  • Know what you’ve signed up for - read the contract so you fully understand what you’re committing to, how long for, and whether you can leave before the end of the contract.

  • Check it’s fair - make sure that the contract is reasonable, for example that it’s not tying you in for a very long time and that there are options to pause your membership or switch locations if you move away, lose your job or can’t train because of injury.

  • Know your cancellation rights - some gyms might offer a ‘cooling off’ period if you change your mind within 14 days of signing up. However if the membership doesn’t work for you or doesn’t offer what you expect many will charge you an exit fee if you want to leave before the minimum term is up.

  • Make a complaint - if your gym does not meet your expectations but they won’t allow you to cancel, make a complaint to the company in writing. Explain why you think it is unreasonable that you’re not able to leave a membership. If you’re still having problems then contact Citizens Advice for help.

  • Make sure it’s worth it  -consider how often you will go, and then work out your price per visit. If you're going once a week or less, pay-as-you-go or individual classes may be cheaper and won't tie you into a contract.

Kate Hobson, consumer expert at Citizens Advice, said:

“At this time of year we’re bombarded with offers for health and fitness memberships, which can ask for a lot of money or commitment up front.

“It’s really important to do your homework before you sign up to any gym, health club or fitness studio. Make sure you know how long you’re committing for, how much it will cost you, and think about how often you’ll need to use it for it to make sense on your budget.

“If you do have problems after signing up then get in touch with Citizens Advice for help.”

Research by Citizens Advice has previously found that many people get trapped paying subscriptions that they don’t use. In just three months consumers paid an average of £160 towards unwanted subscriptions such as gym or sports club memberships

An analysis of cases to the Citizens Advice consumer service between June and August 2017, showed 9 in 10 people were initially refused by the company when they tried to cancel their subscription.

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice carried out analysis on 586 subscription problems reported to the Consumer Service between 1 June and 31 August 2017.
  2. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  3. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  4. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  5. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  6. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.