Gym Membership: Case Update

In our current spring newsletter we feature an article discussing the difficulties consumers face when attempting to cancel a gym membership part way through their gym contract.  The reasons for cancellation of a gym membership can be varied.  However the situation consumers face when attempting to cancel is always the same; namely that the membership will be governed by a minimum contract period, usually for a one year period but often for up to a three year period, which therefore precludes cancellation of the gym contract during that minimum contract period unless all membership fees due in that minimum contract period are discharged.  This often leaves consumers in a difficult and expensive position.

However the ability of gyms to impose a minimum contract period into their contracts, requiring membership for a set period of time has been significantly reduced now the awaited judgment has been delivered in the case of the Office of Fair Trading (“OFT”) v Ashbourne Management Services Limited (“Ashbourne”).

In this case the OFT were claiming that gym contracts which Ashbourne had drafted and attempted to enforce on behalf of hundreds of gyms across the country were unfair within the meaning of consumer protection legislation as they imposed lengthy minimum contract periods upon consumers. 

In his judgment in the case Mr Justice Kitchen ruled that minimum contract periods imposed within the terms of the Ashbourne’s gym contracts were unfair pursuant to consumer protection legislation and are ‘a trap into which the average consumer is likely to fall.’  The Judge felt that any term in a gym contract which ties a member in for more than twelve months would be unfair.

The Judge therefore ordered that Ashbourne are prohibited from using their current standard gym contracts which contain the unfair contract terms requiring membership for a minimum contract period and that they must therefore re draft their standard contract terms to ensure they comply with consumer protection legislation.

The implications of this case are expected to be wide reaching as it is common for most gyms to use a standard term in their contracts which require membership for a minimum contract period. It is therefore expected that in the coming months many gyms will redraft terms within their contracts that impose a minimum contract period on members to ensure that they comply with the precedent that judgment in this case has now set.

However, it is understood that Ashbourne are intending to appeal the judgment in this case and as such we may have to wait a little longer until there is a real change in the way in which gyms contract with consumers.   

For more information on the case please see the Office of Fair Trading press release.

Stephen Lownsbrough
Sports Law Department

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