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Can you cancel a gym contract?

Weights on the floor of a gymSome gyms have a reputation for coming down hard on consumers who decide they want to cancel their membership, even if it’s with legitimate reason. But there are a few ways to get out of a contract. We show you how.

If you signed up to a gym  recently to shed some post--Christmas weight or fulfill a New Year fitness promise and are now beginning to regret it, you might find you’re stuck paying for a facility you won’t use for the rest of the year.

Each year, Consumer Direct receives thousands of complaints from disgruntled gym-goers who are having trouble cancelling or amending a gym contract.

And in many cases, the law means you’ll have to keep paying the monthly fee – but there are ways you can set yourself free from the gym, without breaking the bank.

Can you get out of a gym contract before it is due to end?

The short answer to this is no, in the same way that you couldn’t cancel a mobile phone contract, a mortgage, or any other form of legally binding agreement.

But you can use some exceptions in the terms and conditions to your advantage, if you know your legal rights and study your contract carefully.

Read the contract

Solicitor and director of law firm Ultimate Law, Daniella Lipszyc, says: “I’m not going to pretend I sit and read every contract, no one does, and we sign everything, from credit agreements to mobile phone contracts. And if someone, like a gym, wants to sue you for non-performance they are entitled to do so.

So the first thing to do is read your contract to see if you have a case.”

She then advises to check the terms and conditions and see if you fit into any of the exceptions within the terms and conditions.

“Under consumer law and fair contract terms, the terms and conditions are available to be struck out. Courts are more likely to favour you if you can prove you have a reasonable need to end the contract.”

Have you got a case?

Make sure you definitely have a case. If you decide you just can’t be bothered to go anymore then that’s not good enough, you’ll have to see out the contract. But say you move house, it’s reasonable that you won’t be likely to use that gym.

The same applies to serious illness, relocation for work purposes, or financial difficulties, providing you can prove it.

Other potential areas that may be disputed under the terms and conditions include things like, if you were promised unlimited access to the facilities and you find out you can only use it after 6pm, for example, the gym may have mis-sold you a contract, so you’d have grounds to cancel.

What should you do?

Lipszyc then advises that you contact your gym to arrange a cancellation: “Don’t wade in heavy handed if they continue to bill you.

“I don’t normally advocate this but stop your standing order, your gym may then take steps to sue you.”

“This will start legal proceedings and you can seek legal advice to represent you, if you have a case.

Bear in mind that if they win they can bill you for the whole contract. So if you only want to get out of the last 6 months you could end up paying out for the whole year in one go should you lose a case.”

It is important to remember though that this action should really be a last resort. It would be sensible to weigh up the cost of cancelling your payment versus the benefits of doing so. For example, if your gym took you to court it would be stressful, time-consuming and more expensive than paying out the gym contract. However, if you feel you still have a case, then approach the Citizens Advice Bureau for further guidance.

If you end up in court

Contract is king according to Ultimate Law, so this will be looked at first. But courts will then look at anything that may have been misleading or unfair and conversations you had with staff or promotional material you received may be taken into account.

Make a note of any of the things that induced you to join the gym, the price, length of contract, facilities. That way, if any of this falls below what you were promised, you may have a right to cancel.

Don’t be afraid to seek advice

Remember, consumer law exists to protect consumers. Lipszyc adds: “People are frightened when they receive a solicitor’s letter and many just pay up because they think they’re guilty when they may not have been. People also assume that contesting it will cost them a lot of money. But they should get legal representation or free advice from Citizens Advice if they think they have a case.”

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Lois Avery

Lois Avery

Lois joined Confused.com in 2010 after working for Dyson and as a local newspaper reporter in Wiltshire. After a year writing financial journalism at Confused.com, Lois won the 2011 'most promising newcomer' at the BIBA journalist of the year awards.

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