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OFT Investigates Gym Contracts

An investigation has been launched by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) this week, after a barrage of accusations were received from consumers who were concerned that companies operating gyms or organisations providing gym management services, were enforcing unlawful contracts.

The trade watchdog has yet to officially name any companies due for investigation, however it is widely believed that LA Fitness as well as other industry leaders such as Fitness First and Virgin Active could all be under scrutiny.

The main concern is that the length of these contracts may impinge on what is considered to be fair business practice, with some contracts lasting up to 24 months. These contracts do not allow for any flexibility regarding extenuating circumstance such as pregnancy, illness or people who move to another part of the country where that particular gym does not operate.

One specific story does highlight a story about LA Fitness, who tried to force a pregnant women and her unemployed husband to stump up £780 worth of gym membership fees when they were just about to lose their house. It was only when the argument quite publicly took to Twitter, that LA Fitness decided to back down. It is these 'hard-line' terms that are now being questioned by consumers.

The accusations comes in wake of a further incident in June last year, where the OFT won a case against Ashbourne Management Services (AMS), a company who enforced contracts for a range of smaller gyms. It was deemed unfair for AMS to lock-in customers for more than 12 months when they rarely went to the gym any longer than 2 months.

David Stalker, CEO of the Trade body, Fitness Industry Association (FIA) said :

"We strongly believe in following the rulings drawn up by the OFT and are happy to play an advisory role in this investigation process."

This issue has instigated a rise in the number of low-cost or pay as you go gyms. These gyms offer contracts with greater flexibility and in some cases you can cancel the contract immediately. With these companies on the rise and in light of the AMS case the OFT has said that it, "Expects businesses using terms similar to those which have been held to be unfair to amend their contracts accordingly."




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